Is Australia ready for its own football channel?
Manchester City's Pablo Zabaleta, centre, celebrates scoring against Queens Park Rangers with teammates Gareth Barry, right, and Sergio Aguero. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
As a football fan in this country, coverage of the English Premier League couldn’t be better, but the near non-existent coverage of continental European football leagues leaves a lot to be desired.
One of the essential ingredients of my weekend wind-down is a dose of live football every Sunday night and with the clash between Reading and Tottenham not beginning until after midnight, my pay-television coverage was rendered useless.
But a quick once-over of Livescore.com revealed a smattering of matches beginning across the European continent, including seven matches from Italy’s Serie A, beginning at the relatively friendly 3.00pm (11.00pm AEST) kick-off time.
The flair and excitement of both Napoli and Roma’s matches appealed but it was 2011/12 Scudetto winner Juventus I chose and after, ahem, a quick scan of the internet, I managed to find a stream and tune into to the Old Lady’s visit to Genoa.
It’s by no means legal, the streams are often patchy and it’s a rare privilege to find English commentary, but for those of us wanting to watch the domestic leagues of Spain, Italy, Germany and France, it is virtually the only option we have.
In 2012, despite the myriad of sports channels on pay television, four of the five best leagues in Europe are either inaccessible to football fans in this country or broadcast in minimal doses.
Spain’s La Liga was dropped by ESPN last year in what seems a baffling decision, while Irish broadcaster Setanta decided not to broadcast France’s Ligue 1 season this year.
Fans of Germany’s Bundesliga are fortunate to catch one or two games live on Setanta each week, with a few delayed broadcasts doled out after the event, while little-known broadcaster RAI International broadcast one or two live Serie A matches per week.
That’s right. Despite the likes of Ronaldo, Messi and a litany of stars pushing La Liga to become arguably the best domestic league on the planet, not one of our broadcasters could find a way to get the coverage on our screens.
It’s unthinkable, and it flies in the face of the steadily growing popularity of the game in Australia.
So in an age of digital technology and multi-platform broadcasting, the question must be asked: could a football-only channel be successful in Australia?
It’s worthwhile acknowledging that on a head-to-head basis, a football-only channel’s television ratings would pale in comparison with Fox Sports’ dedicated AFL channel Fox Footy.
That said, the AFL season proper lasts from late March until the last Saturday in September, giving broadcasters just over seven months worth of live action.
With leagues, cups and international tournaments thrown into the mix, a football-only channel would nearly have an endless supply of live matches to broadcast throughout the year.
Rather than matches occurring exclusively on Friday, Saturday and Sunday only, midweek fixtures could mean live football broadcast on four or five days of the week.
With Fox Sports executives currently in advanced negotiations with the FFA regarding the new A-League television deal, the timing could not be better.
Using the EPL and A-League as the jewels in their crown, ‘Fox Football’ – as we shall call it for the purposes of this exercise – could then look to acquire La Liga and Serie A rights, with the relative lack of competition for the rights increasing the chances of economically favourable deals.
Throw in a smattering of second-tier leagues such as they become available – think Holland’s Eredivisie, Turkey’s Super Lig, Brazil’s Brasileirão and Japan’s J-League, to name a few – and the channel begin to take shape with some serious content.
Should the initial response be positive, the rights to the UEFA Champions League – which expire with ESPN in 2015 – and Euro 2016 will become available.
Capture those and Fox Football becomes the undisputed bastion of football in this country.
Sadly, with the new A-League deal expected to be announced within the coming months, it is unlikely that Fox Sports will pursue such an idea, and in future years this concept might become outdated should European football follow the trend of US sports and bypass television networks to sell content directly online.
But is it viable? Should Fox Sports executives be willing to take a gamble, and could we see a football-only channel succeed in Australia?