Free-to-air coverage vital for A-League’s future

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    Roar players celebrate following the A-League season 7 grand final between the Brisbane Roar and Perth Glory (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

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    Since the announcement of Football Federation Australia’s four-year, $160 million media rights deal with current host Fox Sports and SBS, the debate that has kicked into life is which is more important, the value or the new partner?

    The value, $40 million per season, for some is disappointing as it falls short of expectations and supposed previous bids. But it crucially covers the salary cap for the 10 clubs.

    The partnership with SBS is more crucial, because it opens the free-to-air door for a league hidden away on pay television, at a time when it has the momentum to entice a new audience.

    SBS’s coverage includes one live Friday night A-League match per week, all finals series matches, including the grand final, Socceroos World Cup qualifiers on an hour delay, and a weekly A-League highlights show in addition to online, radio and mobile rights.

    All bases are covered – a live showpiece fixture in a regular and attractive timeslot, a highlights package that will showcase the best of the action and should feature prominently on the network’s schedule, and the finals series and Socceroos matches covered on a slight delay.

    Irrespective of the sum, the salary cap is taken care of and it’s now up to the clubs to maximise the increased exposure of additional free-to-air coverage.

    A league (and wider code) available to only those with enough disposable income for pay television is now open to those not so fortunate, and a potential new audience more likely to stumble across the coverage and give it a go, as opposed to a sports-only pay television network.

    Some will claim the game has merely retreated to its former spiritual home, the home of ‘old soccer’. But it’s crucially a network that will respect the game and give it plenty of love and attention as it’s part of SBS’s fabric.

    Super Rugby, the National Basketball League, V8 Supercars and the A-League’s predecessor, the National Soccer League, stand as examples of codes who have, in the past or present, paid the price of commercial free-to-air networks’ cut-throat, unsentimental approach to fringe code sports coverage.

    Even if the potential audience is smaller than a Seven, Nine or Ten, who were seemingly never interested in the A-League anyway, the treatment it will receive with live prime-time coverage, only slight delays etc. is far more valuable than being treated as an afterthought elsewhere.

    Remember, regardless of the numbers SBS may give away to the commercial networks, its reach far outweighs that of Fox Sports, putting the A-League for the first time in households who have never been exposed to it, at a time when the buzz around the league with star marquees and entertaining and unpredictable football is at an all-time high.

    This is the most positive aspect of the new media deal, on top of meeting the requirement for the clubs’ salary caps, for the growth potential is clear.

    It’s also an opportunity to do away with any talk the game’s ‘old soccer’ and ‘new football’ divide was reflected in the schism between SBS and Fox Sports.

    Now FFA must ensure the money is allocated wisely, with clubs becoming viable propositions for their owners while also enticing potential new investors into the game, particularly if the likes of current club owner Nathan Tinkler are forced to vacate the league.

    There are positive noises coming from FFA that expansion is on the backburner and a knockout cup competition remains on the agenda, with David Gallop now in charge and impressing in his early days as the game’s leader.

    As for scheduling, FFA must ensure the Friday fixtures become the showpiece event of each round, like the AFL and NRL, in order to maximise the potential of the free-to-air debut. It becomes the A-League’s greatest advertisement.

    Whether you believe the deal is strong or not, there can be no denying the game finds itself in a far healthier position than a year ago, when the league seemed to be unravelling as its faulty expansion plans collapsed and faith in the league and governing body was at an all-time low.

    With a free-to-air presence added to the current coverage, the league can only grow in exposure and popularity. It’s a win-win.

    Adrian Musolino
    Adrian Musolino

    Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.

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    The Crowd Says (34)

    • November 20th 2012 @ 7:02am
      MV Dave said | November 20th 2012 @ 7:02am | ! Report

      So from $700,000 for the first HAL rights in season 1 to $120 million over 7 years with no FTA for the second set of rights. Now, if we were to extrapolate over a 7 year period, the new deal would be worth $280 million and has FTA, which adds even more value. The TV deals are certainly heading in the right direction…
      As stated previously by others this TV deal will enable a consolidation phase and should HAL remain on an upward trend then expect an even bigger increase in 4 years time. This in term will enable a further planned expansion phase during the next tv deal period. Hopefully Gallop and co are up to the task.
      The Friday night games should be the marquee matches of the weekend and this means lots of Derbies and rivalry games…so;
      MV vs MH x 3, SFC vs WSW x 3, AU vs MVx 2, CCM vs NJ x 2, CCM vs SFC, NJ vs SFC, BR vs SFC, PG vs BR, AU vs PG off the top of my head. It also means WP should rarely be involved in the Friday night match unless they are playing in a top 3-4 game ie match of the round.
      Watching on FTA should give the viewer the optimal HAL experience…big and noisy crowd with lots of color and few empty seats. You cannot guarantee the quality and excitement of one game but you can ensure the atmosphere will be worthy of a FTA showing.
      Anyway congratulations to BB and co who have ensured the HAL is on an upward and onwards direction into the foreseeable future.

      • November 20th 2012 @ 9:27am
        Dave said | November 20th 2012 @ 9:27am | ! Report

        That’s actually a point I haven’t seen anything about: Is it on FTA in NZ as well? Doesn’t hurt to keep the game growing there also.

      • November 20th 2012 @ 11:51am
        Kasey said | November 20th 2012 @ 11:51am | ! Report

        As a fan I am happy that BB did not take the reported earlier deal of $42m pa IF it did NOT include a FTA component.

        FTA (even on SBS) is a landmark achievement for football. In this day and age, today and right now it is good to be a football fan Well done to the true believers who held the faith through the trials of recent years.

        • November 20th 2012 @ 8:57pm
          Fussball Nitwit said | November 20th 2012 @ 8:57pm | ! Report

          Well done Ben Buckley!

    • November 20th 2012 @ 8:04am
      Bondy. said | November 20th 2012 @ 8:04am | ! Report

      Well written Adrian,

      I’m happy with the deal .

    • November 20th 2012 @ 8:59am
      striker said | November 20th 2012 @ 8:59am | ! Report

      All good great to see SBS get the free to air rights at least they wont put the games at midnight like the other channels would, they game has never been more healthier in its history lets hope it grows even bigger in four years time.

      • November 20th 2012 @ 12:02pm
        Kasey said | November 20th 2012 @ 12:02pm | ! Report

        It’s a minor quibble but once again I found myself shaking my head whilst watching SBS report on the modern domestic game. In the World News Sport report last night, the voice over stated that the new deal of $40m/year is a big improvement over the previous deal that had FFA paying Foxtel $19m/year to broadcast A-League games…wtf??

    • November 20th 2012 @ 9:35am
      Aljay said | November 20th 2012 @ 9:35am | ! Report

      I’m not in a position to attend live matches and don’t have Foxtel. I have only ever seen about 3 A-league matches that have been on when I’m in a pub, but would happily watch 1-2 games from home a week. There must be thousands like me without Foxtel – dads with kids, kids who can’t go into a pub, people who don’t have 4 hours a weekend to go to live sport but do have 2 hours to record and watch it and now they can. The A-League will grow massively from here.

      The impact of this deal is not just about the $40mil per year for the next 4 years. The exposure from the free-to-air component will let the game speak for itself and the next deal after this will be much, much, much bigger than $40mil per year.

      • November 20th 2012 @ 2:08pm
        Timmuh said | November 20th 2012 @ 2:08pm | ! Report

        I don’t have kids, but live three hours (probably four by the time actually getting to a stadium is taken into account) from the nearest team, don’t have Foxtel or Austar and don’t drive; so I’m quite happy to have something on FTA. As someone without a club to support, just hope we get a decent mix of teams on the Friday night and not just get the big clubs (Sydney and Victory) every week.

    • November 20th 2012 @ 9:43am
      Midfielder said | November 20th 2012 @ 9:43am | ! Report

      I am glad FFA went for FTA coverage for less money than putting it all on pay… the benefits will come in the next media deal…

    • November 20th 2012 @ 9:48am
      Geordie said | November 20th 2012 @ 9:48am | ! Report

      As well as the live Fri night game I’m looking forward to the highlights show. Just hope they opt for the EPL review show format without on screen presenters so it’s all action and not a gab fest like Match of the Day.

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