With Del Piero on board, now’s the time for FTA television

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Del Piero has signed with Sydney FC (Image: AFP)

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If Ben Buckley wants to leave the game in a healthier state than it has been under his guidance, then he would do well to obtain a free-to-air TV element for this season, capitalising on the arrival of Alessandro Del Piero.

The talk around the traps is that Fox Sports want exclusivity for the upcoming season, which kicks off in just over three weeks.  

Given that Fox signed a seven-year deal at the beginning of season two, they certainly should feel entitled to this.

The football team, led by producer Murray Shaw, have, in the main, done a great job, and they should certainly feel entitled to a sense of reward for backing the game at a time Frank Lowy needed the support.

History should judge Fox well for forking out $120 million over seven years, even if many fans of the game would suggest the length of the deal has actually impacted on the Socceroos in recent years.

The FFA, at the time, were certainly in no position to choose.

And many would argue, under the guidance of Buckley, they are in no greater position now.

But if there’s ever a time to get the product out to a broader market, beyond the reach of pay TV, it is now.

The arrival of Del Piero has been described in many quarters as a game-changer, and for many involved in the decisions that guide the future direction of the round ball code in Australia, this should mean being flexible and adaptable.

By having the A-League at least in part on a free-to-air network, most likely to be SBS, the local game would be in a position to touch the broader audience, aroused by the arrival of Del Piero next week.

Twelve months from now and who knows what the landscape will look like.

Certainly, it’s not a time for panic, but having Del Piero start at a time there’s a free-to-air element would help accelerate the growth of the game.

Indeed, in an ideal world, the deal being brokered now by Buckley and the likes of Fox and SBS should be short, no longer than three years.

With the AFL and NRL signing five year mega-deals, that would give football an opportunity to be ahead of the cycle by the time the next round of negotiations come around.

Strategically, that would allow the league some greater exposure in the short term, while Del Piero is in town, but it would also give incoming CEO David Gallop an opportunity to build something over the next couple of seasons that would be worth more in a few years.

By many measures Buckley’s rein at FFA will not be remembered fondly.

Chief among the failures has been a retreat out of Queensland, both in the north and south, and an inability to manage the game’s myriad of stakeholders, particularly the club’s owners.

Too often he’s barely been sighted, bunkered down at FFA headquarters.

The game’s been told this ‘low-profile’ is essentially so he can work on the next TV deal, the reason, we’ve been told, he was brought in.

If the sum of this work is a mere doubling of the deal to approximately $40 million dollars a season, as has been reported across the News Ltd network, then he will not be remembered for leaving a great legacy.

This is especially the case if you believe the suggestion in some quarters that there was a significantly larger offer on the table a couple of years ago.

But Buckley has a chance to change some of this legacy if he can somehow convince the folk at Fox to share at least a portion of their coverage with a free-to-air station this season.

Whatever that is, whether one game a week, live or delayed, or a highlights and analysis show, is better than nothing at all.

Certainly, the news that broke late yesterday that SBS had been granted the right to broadcast this morning’s World Cup qualifier in Amman, a hour delayed, points the way forward.

As I argued in this article almost two years ago, the more exposure football and the A-League gets in the mainstream, the more likely it is that people will want to sign up to Fox for more.

It’s an often-used cliche, but for the good of the game, it’s in everyone’s interests to come to the table and make it happen, particularly in light of the gift that has arrived in Del Piero.

Buckley still has time to make a mark.

Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyTannousTRBA
Former Roarer, Jesse Fink, has released a new e-book, World Party, the story of the Socceroos' incredible run at the 2006 World Cup – 15 days every Australian football fan should never forget. Support a fellow Roarer and download a copy today.

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