The footy's back for another season but if you want to watch your favourite AFL and NRL teams play online then you're at the mercy of Foxtel and Telstra.
The new five-year, $2.5 billion AFL rights deal kicks off this season, split between Network Seven, Foxtel and Telstra. As of this week Seven will only broadcast three or four live AFL matches each round, so free-to-air television is going to leave you in the lurch some weeks – especially if you support one of the less powerful clubs.
It's a similar story with the NRL – Network Nine, Foxtel and Telstra have the rights locked away, with a new deal starting in 2018 that will see Nine lose a few more live matches.
As expected, the free-to-air footy coverage won't be simulcast on Seven and Nine's streaming services 7Live and 9Now, or the Freeview streaming apps, because Telstra owns the relevant rights. Instead 7Live will run the Channel 7 feed from another capital city, leaving you watching the Saturday arvo classic movie instead of the footy. Meanwhile 9Now's Channel 9 feed will fade to black during the NRL, but this looks set to change next year under the new deal.
Foxtel in your lounge room
The only way to ensure that you can watch every match, every round, is to sign up with Foxtel or Telstra. At this point it gets complicated, depending on which screen you're watching.
As usual a full home Foxtel subscription lets you watch every AFL and NRL match live, but you're still forced to contend with the dreaded bundle; you need to pay for a basic Foxtel package before you can sign up for the premium Sports package. Right now Foxtel is offering a $55 p/m Sports package deal with no lock-in contract, but existing customers might not get such a good deal.
Foxtel on your gadgets
If you've got a home Foxtel subscription then you can watch the channels in your bundle via the Foxtel Go streaming service, which is available on computers, smartphones and tablets. In the past you haven't been able to watch live AFL via Foxtel Go in a desktop app, but that's changed with this year's new rights deal.
Foxtel still tries to hamper efforts to watch the live streaming footy on your television. The apps don't work with Google Chromecast or Apple's AirPlay, but you can still plug your computer into your television if you have the right video cable. Keep in mind that it's only an SD stream, so don't expect miracles on a large television.
Rather than paying for a home Foxtel subscription, there's also the option of signing up for Foxtel Play which is available on smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, Smart TVs, games consoles and the Telstra TV set-top box. While Foxtel Play has simplified its pricing this year you still need to sign up for a $10 or $15 basic package before you can sign up for the $29 premium Sports package.
In the past one AFL match was missing on Foxtel Play each round, for no other reason than to frustrate you to the point where you'll cave in and pay for real Foxtel. Thankfully that's changed as of this year and you'll see every AFL match live, except for the Grand Final (just to make life difficult).
Under the new rights deal Foxtel is also more generous regarding playback devices. This season you'll finally be able to watch live AFL and NRL on Foxtel Go or Play via a desktop app, Smart TVs and game consoles apps. It's also available via the Telstra TV set-top box which – unlike the others – offers HD sports streaming.
Telstra on your gadgets
These days online mobile rights are treated as a separate deal, with Telstra snapping up the rights for both the AFL and NRL and throwing it in for free on some phone deals with unmetered streaming. Don't get too excited about watching these services on the big screen, they insist that you squint at your smartphone or tablet.
The new rights deals aren't all good news for footy fans, this year tablet users signed up with the Telstra sevice can only watch live AFL matches in a 7-inch window on the screen – it's not available to watch in full-screen mode until 12 hours after the match. As you can imagine this has made a lot of people rather unhappy.
You can't watch live matches on the Telstra TV set-top box using a Telstra sports subscription, only match replays and highlights. Nor do the Telstra mobile apps support AirPlay or Chromecast for sending the picture to your television, and you might struggle to send the picture to your television via an HDMI adaptor cable.
Thankfully you're not forced to sign up for the entire season just to watch a few matches, NRL fans have the option to just pay for a single round while AFL fans can pay for a single round or a single month.
Australian ex-pats get a better deal when it comes to watching on different devices. The AFL's overseas streaming service offers every match via a desktop browser, iOS or Android (with AirPlay and Chromecast support). It's available with a weekly, monthly or season pass, but unfortunately geo-blocking ensures that it's only available to people located outside Australia.