A-League needs Channel 10, but does 10 need A-League?
148 Have your say
Glory beckons as Perth make A-League Grand Final AAP Image/Paul Miller
There is no question that the future of the A-League is highly dependent on free-to-air television.
Free-to-air television is the staple of organic growth of a sporting organisation. Its ability to reach the wider population is essential in the promotion of our game.
While we NSL and old football diehards are eternally grateful that Fox Sports resurrected our game from its death bed in the early years of the A-League, we need to move away from this highly restricted marketplace.
Effectively, we are now too big for pay TV.
The last reported figure on the total number of Foxtel subscribers, including wholesale subscribers and customers in the installation queue, was at 1.66 million.
This is simply not a large enough supporter base to develop any significant growth in our marketplace. We have moved on from a novelty product to a legitimate premium sport package.
The recruitments of Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton last season and the rise of crowd numbers and social media interaction has proved that the A-League is no longer an ugly duckling in the Australian sporting market.
It is now recognised and even followed by the majority of Australian sporting fanatics. The A-League is here to stay, so we need to embrace this.
The 2011/12 season was not only a success from the rise in crowd numbers, media coverage and profile, but it was a monolithic success in TV ratings. The highly publicised debut of Harry Kewell and subsequent match against Sydney F.C drew the title of the highest pay TV rating A-League match of all time.
That’s right, the highest pay TV rating A-League match of all time, with an audience of 162,417 on Fox Sports.
Also, TV ratings for the 2011/12 season were reported to be up around the 40 percent mark. Now while Harry Kewell has left us for personal reasons, Brett Emerton and other genuine big name players still remain in ever present in our league, proving that the A-League is far from just a one trick pony.
Household coaching names such as Tony Popovic, John Aloisi and Graham Arnold still remain in the game, adding profile and intrigue, while players such as Archie Thompson, Marcos Flores, Shane Smeltz and Fred have become well-known and respected sporting figures nationwide.
Besart Berisha, also known as ‘BB7′ of the Brisbane Roar, has a cult following so potent we may see him in a Neighbours episode soon.
Recently it has been reported that high profile names such as Mark Bresciano, Lucas Neill, Richard Garcia and even Tim Cahill are all in the frame for a future return, with some of these names closer to a return than first thought (Bresh to Heart anyone? Lucas Neill in West Sydney?).
The marvellous addition of a Western Sydney team in the Wanderers has removed the prickly thorn in the Gold Coast and turned it into a growth project, with Western Sydney being a true footballing heartland.
Western Sydney will be a success, there is too much riding on it to not be, and this is a footballing heartland rather than a fickle ‘Hollywood’ town. They have done everything right so far, from the kit, to the signings to the fan interaction. West Sydney is there for more than just making up the numbers.
The A-League derbies, especially in Melbourne and soon to be in Sydney, have become legitimate big ticket items on the Australian sporting calendar, with viewer and crowd numbers skyrocketing on every occasion. They demonstrate the pinnacle of what the A-League is capable of, legitimate market share in the mainstream sporting arena.
Now, what does this have to do with Channel 10? After a recent capital raising, the company has enough funding to launch a successful bid for the upcoming A-League free-to-air TV rights.
While SBS is and always has been the home of the world game for decades in Australia, it does not have the funding to launch a significant bid which could land all games on free-to-air, in fact there are massive doubts that it can afford the one game a week that it has reportedly targeted.
Channel 10 on the other hand may be looking for a premium sporting product, and have the A-League right on their doorstep.
A relationship between the two would be a marriage to benefit both parties. While the A-League may be still a B to B+ proposition, it has A-grade potential. The A-League, with a rapid promotional campaign in conjunction with Channel 10, could well and truly become a premium sporting product within five years.
With proper exposure and 10 teams across the whole nation, the A-League has potential to be a 400,000-500,000-plus ratings puller for the network. Pushing the product into the mainstream, focusing on the big names in the game and the eccentric rivalries would be a catalyst for ratings that could even surprise the network.
Now the original Fox Sports deal featured Socceroos and the A-League and was purchased for a shrewd $120 million, seven-year deal. This surely has to be eclipsed as the game has grown in leaps and bounds from its original inception.
I would love to see a $200 million deal over five years, valuing just the A-League at a cool $40 million a season. Now while this seems a tad ambitious, it is nothing compared to the recent $1 billion AFL rights and upcoming $800 million plus NRL TV rights.
Channel 10 has an opportunity to pick up the rights to a nation-wide game for less than a quarter of the price of other two codes mentioned, which are still not yet nationally loved and embraced.
Now I put the challenge to Channel 10 to seriously look at the A-League as viable player in the sporting market. It has potential to bring benefits to the TV network and grow the game at the same time.
We can only look back on the success of the 2007 LA Galaxy vs Sydney FC exhibition game which drew a very respectable 1.084 million viewers nationwide, so perhaps games with something to play for could even draw more viewers? You never know.
The coverage that night was excellent and showed that Channel 10 could run a more than serviceable product that would indeed even please footballing diehards.
Channel 10 was once the home of ‘footy’. Let’s take it upon them to make it the home of ‘football’; this is something that it is more than capable of.
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