When Optus first announced its capture of English Premier League rights from next season onwards, Australia’s biggest sport broadcaster, Foxtel, was facing an uncertain future when it came to showcasing the round ball.
Fans announced their intention to cancel subscriptions, there was scepticism about the A-League’s ability to solely pull subscriptions, and forecasts were made that Australia’s premier football division could soon find itself a new home.
Yet in the face of a new competitor in the sporting scene, a scene Foxtel have dominated throughout the new millennium, the pay TV giant has kickstarted what could be an incredible fightback.
On Thursday, Foxtel announced they would now be offering customers – both new and old – essentially free access to beIN Sports, formally Setanta Sports, which had been previously available as an extra for between $10-$20 a month over the past few years.
Now, Foxtel will provide beIN Sports with three new channels to showcase more live football than it can probably handle. Outgoing is the Premier League, but incoming is the Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1, the Scottish Premier League and England’s second tier, the Championship. It is a heavyweight line-up.
Clubs in these leagues alone boast about 15 active Australian players, giving Socceroos fans a greater chance to follow the progression of both regular squad members and upcoming talents. That number could bulge with a couple of A-League players tipped for off-season moves to Europe.
Socceroos such as Mat Ryan, Tom Rogic, Robbie Kruse, Mathew Leckie, Massimo Luongo and Bailey Wright are featuring weekly for their clubs, and Australian fans should savour being able to witness their talents on a regular basis.
It will also be great to witness the progress of our Asian rivals’ top players, with a number contracted to German clubs.
Then there is the mouthwatering proposition of watching Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski, Gigi Buffon et al enter the pitch for some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
This is a massive win for the football-loving public.
It is also a chance for Australia to move away from its Premier League obsession, and become more immersed in non-Anglo styles of football. While Australia has moved incredibly quickly under the overriding guidance of Ange Postecoglou, there is still a long way to go in shunning English roots.
Many fans will already be avid followers of Europe’s ‘other’ top leagues, but for many it will be an opportunity to devour a new football culture for the first time.
Not since the 12-hour-odd Sunday binge sessions once offered by The World Game on SBS has the Australian public had such a rich, accessible source of content. It is an exciting prospect, and it should also assist the country’s next generation.
Being exposed weekly, if lucky enough to have generous parents, to the best in the world in leagues outside the Premier League can only help inspire our next bunch of football stars and coaches to not only adopt styles, but also to pursue challenges outside the status quo.
Moving to England has been a preference for many of our brightest talents, understandable in some ways due to the common language, yet that is slowly changing. Watching La Liga and Bundesliga weekly will show some EPL-obsessed grommets that there is life outside England.
Watching the technical abilities within almost every Spanish club, the raw talent that emerges in France, the tactical systems in Italy or the perfect mixture of skill and physicality in the Bundesliga can only help our youngsters’ development.
Some may say this outlook is overblowing Foxtel’s move to diversify its football content, but I see exciting positives in the access to Europe’s top leagues. TV has a big influence on kids, and finding idols outside the EPL can only be beneficial.
Instead of getting excited about Francis Jeffers, Robbie Fowler, Emile Heskey, Benito Carbone and William Gallas coming Down Under, due to their association with English football, fans will be able to appreciate the arrival of players such as Diego Castro, Corona, Matthieu Delpierre and Thomas Broich with a degree of knowledge. The guesswork will partially be banished.
Lastly, Foxtel’s reiteration that it is not content in dumping football, despite its stranglehold on NRL and AFL broadcasts through Fox Sports, is promising for Football Federation Australia’s upcoming negotiations for A-League and Socceroos rights.
This deal could prove defining for the game, and Foxtel’s desire to avoid losing football subscribers bodes well for their intention to aggressively pursue the A-League. Similarly, after making a statement with their capture of EPL rights and deal with SBS for the 2018 World Cup, Optus will not want to make a hasty retreat.
The telecom will be forced to up their game in their quest to challenge Foxtel’s hold on sport broadcasts, while Fox Sports will not be willing to budge any further.
This could be the first bidding war the FFA are part of, and the opportunity cannot be passed up.