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The deal was worth $445 million more than the previous $780-million agreement, and set a new record for the number of live matches broadcast.
Burns said crowds at country football today paled in comparison with the early ’70s when he started his career and the early ’80s when he returned to coach the Roosters.
“I can remember when I was growing up the kids would be sitting around the boundary line watching their heroes play footy,” he said.
“The AFL broadcast rights deal has taken the heart and soul out of country footy … the locals will turn up for the finals but for other games the leagues struggle to attract crowds.”
North Warrnambool Eagles president Michael Harrison agreed the TV rights deal had hurt bush crowds.
“Crowds for our Cobden and Port Fairy games were down but the one against South Warrnambool was similar to last year,” he said.
Hampden league president Bob Guiney said he believed crowds had remained similar during his time at the helm.
Guiney said the rights deal might have had a negative impact, but comparing 2012 to 30 years earlier was unfair.
“It was strong then, but it was a different world back then, that’s what you’ve got to take into consideration,” he said.
Victorian Country Football League communications officer Jock Allan said game chiefs had seen a rise in country crowds in the past five years, but couldn’t make an earlier comparison. Allan credited the jump to creative fixtures such as double headers, Anzac and Easter matches.
“It’s an interesting conversation what other pressures there are, and other competing interests in people’s lives these days,” he said.