Home of football loses Champions League rights

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    Iconic scenes mimicking Zinedine Zindane’s outrageous volley in 2002, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s dramatic winner in 1999 and Real Madrid’s La Decima will no longer be screened on free-to-air Australian televisions this season unless a contingency deal is brokered.

    UEFA documents released publicly have revealed that Al Jazeera’s beIN Media Group have seized exclusive rights to the UEFA Champions League, the Europa League, and Super Cup for the next three seasons in Oceania.

    The move ends public broadcaster SBS’s long held mantle as the king of European football coverage, which has slowly waned over the last decade after the loss of English Premier League rights to Foxtel.

    It is the end of an era, with SBS covering the Champions League for the past 20 years, and will put further doubt on whether the FIFA World Cup and other football competitions will continue to be screened on the ‘home of football’ in the long term.

    While the move away from Australia’s football flagship is a blow for SBS fans, the same cannot not be said about ESPN missing out on the deal.

    ESPN coverage of the Champions League has never truly been able to deliver the crisp and quality commentary and analysis of its competitors, and beIN Sports should be well placed to produce a more enjoyable product.

    The Copa America rights swapped hands from SBS to beIN Sports Australia for the first time this year and the coverage was reportedly impressive. Hopefully the same will be said about their handling of the world’s biggest club competition.

    Another upside is that all games will be broadcast live, with beIN Sports’ internet channel, beIN Sports Connect, providing a platform for every single match – from qualification play-offs to the final.

    Whereas ESPN’s coverage often focused on a English Premier League-dominated agenda, and SBS showed the game of the week, subscribers will now be able to follow whichever team they wish, and seek out the more entertaining and niche fixtures.

    However, the extra $19.99 expected to be charged for the service on top of existing Foxtel contracts is a bit steep given the broadcast will be in standard definition. If they can upgrade to high definition then fair play, but otherwise it feels a bit excessive.

    Unfortunately for SBS this downgrade in football coverage has been earmarked ever since the Abbott government announced hefty cuts to the public broadcaster. Speculation was already mounting in March.

    The move may also spark fresh rumours about SBS’s future football coverage, with their A-League contract running down in 2017. The long-held FIFA World Cup rights will no doubt be something they will try to hold onto.

    Details over the cost or length of beIN Sports’ new deal are yet to be confirmed, and it is still possible that SBS may open talks with them to arrange a similar deal they held with ESPN. However, given beIN Sports’ chance for exclusivity, it would appear unlikely.

    It is a shame for football fans who have slowly watched as SBS’s football coverage diminished more and more. For those who grew up with football before the A-League rolled around, it is another sad nail in the coffin.

    The recent FIFA Women’s World Cup coverage showed that SBS can still provide some of the best sport coverage in the country, while their handling of the Champions League is all many fans know. Waking up midweek at 4:30am and joining Craig Foster and the crew has long been a tradition among football fanatics.

    Sadly, the scenes of Lionel Messi mesmerising Camp Nou or Pep Guardiola manically directing his Bayern troops may never grace SBS screens again.