As a Wanderers fan, it’s been for me the best season of the A-League to date or perhaps any other sporting season. My anticipation for the next A-League season, still 16 weeks out from the pre-season, is palpable.
The omens are all good for A-League season nine. The major signings from last season are all confirmed as staying on with the promise of more big names to come.
From July 1, Football Federation Australia’s new four-year, $160 million broadcast rights deal comes into effect giving more money to the FFA and the A-League clubs.
And on top of other changes for the better, the A-League will appear nationally on free-to-air television for the first time to broaden its mainstream appeal across the land.
Part of the new broadcast deal is that SBS will be allowed to telecast one A-League game per week live in prime time on Friday nights, as well as an A-League highlights package and a delayed telecast of the all the A-League finals series matches on SBS.
All great news for Australian football fans and the continued growth of the A-League, but the question arises as to which A-League games are going to be played on a Friday night.
The A-League competition fixture list for this season becomes very important, especially if you don’t have Foxtel.
A computerised system is used to determine the English Premier League fixtures.
Once a draft schedule is produced by the computer, given a certain set of constraints, dates to avoid and other FIFA and major competition parameters, the EPL schedulers then consult with the Fixtures Working Party, which is made up of representatives from clubs across the Leagues and from supporters’ organisations.
The final EPL fixture list concludes with a consultation meeting with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the British Transport Police.
I’m not sure if the FFA is going to go through the same rigorous process, particularly in setting the agenda for the Friday night live games on SBS.
My concern is that Foxtel will have a major say in determining the Friday night games.
Given they are the major contributor to the FFA’s broadcast deal revenues, they will ask that blockbuster games like the big derbies in Melbourne and Sydney and other major fixtures be not scheduled on a Friday night.
Will the FFA continue with its policy to play games on the day of the week and at times that best suits the clubs and their fans attendance habits?
How much influence Foxtel has on the A-League fixtures list is yet to be seen.
With the NRL and AFL, the FTA stations contribute the most revenue to the broadcast deals and they usually get the highest TV rating teams shown as their live games.
Channel Nine has had many complaints over the years that their Friday night live games usually feature high television rating teams like the Broncos, Rabbitohs, Bulldogs or Dragons.
The fans of the other teams like Canberra and Penrith are complaining that their teams are never shown on Friday nights.
It’s not uncommon to see the Broncos games shown live on Channel Nine three or four Friday nights in a row.
For the A-League the situation is reversed. Foxtel, not SBS, contribute the vast majority of money to the FFA for broadcasting matches and they will surely get the most influence in setting the Friday night fixtures.
If so, is this a bad thing in terms of A-League attendances and club revenues. If the blockbuster games are not on free-to-air, then more fans are likely to go to the games and add to the colour and atmosphere.
More sell outs and greater demand for match day tickets if they are not on free-to-air.
If we had Friday night live games, according to the season eight fixture list, we would have opened the past season with the Melbourne derby live, then Adelaide vs Wanderers live, Victory vs Adelaide, Victory vs Jets, Wanderers vs Heart, Heart vs Roar, Roar vs Sydney and so on.
Some good games there to watch on a Friday night.
But if the lower placed teams and let’s say, the least entertaining games are only allowed to be shown on SBS on a Friday night, how will that impact the free-to-air viewing audiences and the appeal and prestige of the A-League, especially when the best games are not shown live to the biggest potential audiences?
Will it lower attendances at the bottom end of the league and how will it affect the smaller clubs and lower placed teams’ financial viability?
I don’t believe the clubs will be paid any extra by the FFA if their games are shown live.
I hope the FFA takes a balanced view of the fixture list and can allow as many blockbuster games as possible to be shown on a Friday night live on SBS.
The big games should be popular enough to attract big crowds anyway and the occasional more exciting games on SBS will broaden the A-League’s appeal and continue to enhance the FFA’s, SBS’s and the A-League’s reputations.