Tonight’s Grand Final edition of The Footy Show might be its last.
One thing seems for sure, though: John ‘Sam’ Newman’s television career is done and dusted.
Judging by Newman’s nine-minute farewell at the beginning of last week’s episode of The Footy Show, it seems he has seen the writing on the wall.
Ratings have nose-dived in recent years to the point where the battle between The Footy Show and Channel 7’s The Front Bar – another humour-based AFL show – is no longer a contest.
Last week, for instance, The Front Bar attracted 386,000 viewers, compared to The Footy Show’s 254,000.
The gap was even wider the week before when The Footy Show lost the contest by a whopping 378,000 to 173,000.
Much of the program’s decline has been largely blamed on Newman.
And there are three key reasons why we have likely seen the last of him.
Offensive, outdated views
Increasingly over the years, viewers have found Newman’s comments offensive on a range of social issues.
He has always been controversial, but for the most part he has been able to get away with it due to the cheeky larrikinism that endeared him to his viewers – even those who found themselves in furious disagreement with him.
Make no mistake, at the height of his fame there was no bigger name in Melbourne than Sam Newman and he was often the talk of the town on many Friday mornings following his Thursday night antics.
He was always a worthy topic of discussion as he was divisive – some loved him, others loathed him. Many changed their opinion of him from week to week.
But over the past couple of years in particular, there is a growing frustration from Newman about the world he lives in.
The invisible social boundaries that dictate our social norms have shifted without his approval. For many, what was once irreverent is now rude. What was once funny is now offensive.
As such, he has been viewed as an out-of-touch has-been.
A changing media landscape
The backdrop to all of this, of course, is that our media landscape has dramatically changed, leaving television at the crossroads.
When Newman was a Melbourne mega star, TV was media’s king. But times have changed.
No longer do we rush home from work to huddle around the TV. We now watch movies via streaming services. We watch YouTube clips, listen to podcasts and constantly scan social media channels.
Television audiences have fragmented and it has never been more difficult to attract viewers – particularly for a program that has been around for 25 years and is no longer seen as new, fresh and different.
The abundance of footy content
Footy fans who tuned into The Footy Show for their weekly footy fix now have no shortage of AFL content across a variety of media platforms to satisfy their cravings.
AFL content exists 24/7 on pay television, via Fox Footy, while weekly shows on other major networks are popular.
And the AFL and its 18 clubs also create content to engage their fans every day of the week, via social and digital media.
For The Footy Show and Newman, all of this means they’re no longer compulsory viewing.
One last ratings boost
If the much-discussed Nine Network show is to go on, it seems it will not be with Newman.
He does deserve some credit for his longevity – television programs of any kind don’t usually last a quarter of a century.
Newman is the biggest reason The Footy Show has remained on television for so long.
Be it contrived or not, he walked the fine line that had his fellow panellists and viewers on edge, but unable to look away. He entertained and then angered viewers, all in the space of five minutes.
And while he got it wrong on many occasions, he got it just right on others.
So while Newman’s days appear numbered, it is worth remembering that, for a period of time, he was one of the biggest entertainers on TV.
That time has clearly passed but Newman’s contribution to the football media should ensure that, for one more week at least, The Footy Show competes with its ratings rivals.
Dr Sam Duncan is a lecturer of sports media and sports business at Melbourne’s Holmesglen Institute.