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Football is ready for free-to-air coverage

Still without a club, Tomi Juric would be a handy free signing. Credit: SNPA / Dean Pemberton
Roar Guru
25th February, 2015
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1347 Reads

Arguably the key to sporting data when determining the size and growth rates are: crowds, TV ratings, social media and direct net hits. My understanding is that there is a direct correlation between media coverage, crowds and ratings, and the more the better is obvious.

It is interesting to sometimes look behind the raw data. Surfing is very popular in Australia yet how many people who go to the beach would watch a surf tournament or the Iron Man.

History, tradition and media all play a part in the gathering of information. I can still recall John Salter played a grand final with a broken jaw against Manly in the 1971 grand final. It is part of league folklore, yet I have no recollection of how hard it was for the 1974 Socceroos to make the World Cup.

All the heroics of the ’74 side has been lost as it was never widely reported, appreciated nor talked about when great Australian sporting achievements are discussed. Yet if you look at what the ’74 side achieved to qualify it is arguably one of the top 10 Australian sporting stories over the last 60 years.

The chicken or egg argument over media coverage and ratings is a point often discussed. Does the media promote a sport because of the audience numbers it gets? Does the same media also drive the crowds and ratings? In truth, it’s a bit of both. However, only a fool would suggest that blanket coverage does not help existing codes in Australia.

The facts behind the crowd and ratings stats are interesting. What are the demographics of those watching? How many repeat watchers (people who will watch on a weekend many matches of their chosen code)? Are trends and overseas influences important to future patterns?

How important is the coverage, both pre and post-match analysis? How are difficult issues handled?

Football’s key figures, crowds of about 14,000 and ratings on Fox Sports of 71,000 are roughly a third of the AFL figures, with way less media and tradition. However, compared to the National Soccer League, which had no media, FFA is in a far better position.

Aside from the odd match, historically the lack of any meaningful free-to-air coverage of the Socceroos and football again affects these figures.

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Pre-match and knowledgeable media for Socceroo opposition is often non-existent, the A-League has improved hugely in print but not so much in electronic. Post-match analysis is improving out of sight. However, in terms of ratings and crowds, the pre-match coverage is preferred.

The broadcasters and their advertisers pay a lot of attention to the age and demographics of the audiences. The reasons are many, not least the current and estimated spending patterns.

How should the ratings and the crowds be measured, what are the Australian tends, and what are the world trends?

At this stage please accept the following is gleamed from general reading rather than any particular inside knowledge. Indicators are that football has a younger demographic than other major codes, and along with AFL has a high female acceptance. Player numbers are growing. The technical side of the game is becoming increasingly understood, while national sides are becoming better known.

If media is, as I stated previously, an important plank of any sporting code, then YouTube, which only last week celebrated its 10th birthday, along with the net has been kind to football. YouTube has enabled the sharing of football and this has appealed to the younger generation.

An example of how YouTube can spread, my team the Central Coast Mariners copied this chant from Portland Timbers in the USA. I bring this up because things like this have gone totally unnoticed by the mainstream media. But this clearly highlights the power of the net.

The trends are seemingly all pointing north and arguably for the first time in our history we have a young and growing national side, a decent national domestic competition, and an increasingly accepted Asian Champions League, with a two tiers of state league sides and 650 team taking part in the FFA Cup.

There is a lot of noise about the next media deal and whether it will be brought forward a year. It’s said that all commercial channels are interested now.

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Free-to-air stations are chasing, and football has become mainstream, resulting in it being able to be marketed to a mass audience. My logic tells me the analysis of the viewing patterns is pointing to growth.

So what do the key figures point to? As I said we need to know what’s behind them first. However, YouTube, net hits and player numbers all point to growth in the future.

The evolution has a long way to go but it appears we are in the beginning of a new phase for football in that it is now mainstream. Soon we will have more games to offer than any other code.

The phase ‘who dares wins’ may apply to what free-to-air station takes football to the next level, but my reading of the tea leaves is it is finally ready to go to a free-to-air channel.