Democratisation of the NPL yet another technological step forward

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    The involvement television companies have had with football over the last 20 years has been a double-edged sword.

    On one hand, the unprecedented television rights deals have pumped money, hand over fist, into the respective leagues. Innovations in broadcasting have meant the television experience, with all of its new-fangled interactivity, is constantly raising the entertainment ceiling.

    On the other hand, the relationship football has had with broadcasters is often argued as being the leading pack-horse, dragging, at a canter, the people’s game away from the people.

    Fixture scheduling is now regularly made the slave of the broadcaster, and the fact the country has to pay a significant monthly fee to watch the national league is a state of affairs that, however improper, has become depressingly normal.

    Foxtel branding smothers the A-League; some say rightly, while others try and apply a mental censor to it all.

    Meanwhile, there appears to be a technologically-fuelled counter-movement occurring at NPL level. NPL Victoria and NPL South Australia recently live-streamed Round 1 matches on Facebook, and have since been proudly pointing to the eye-catching viewing metrics that the streams garnered.

    Firstly, let’s address the flaws inherent in the way social media websites calculate video impressions and how they compare with more transparent television ratings.

    On Facebook, a user has to watch a video they have scrolled past – without necessarily un-muting the video – for just three seconds for it to count as a “view”. So when South Melbourne chairman Bill Papastergiadis uses the fact that the recently streamed match between his club and Bulleen accrued around 90,000 views as a weapon in his battle for South Melbourne’s acceptance as the next A-League franchise, it doesn’t take long for those initially impressive metrics to wilt, and for those listening to South Melbourne’s chairman to curdle under their own cynicism.

    Directly comparing this number to television viewing figures for an A-League game – which Papastergiadis did – is to compare two incongruous sets of numbers, collected in dissimilar ways, designed to be interpreted differently.


    But what this streaming revolution is doing is bringing the lower-levels of Australian football into the pockets and onto the desks of Australians everywhere. This can only be, it must be emphasised, a very good thing for the clubs and for the game generally.

    It is also, not to mention, a forward-thinking thing. The way we consume live sport generally has changed; it’s a product that is now offered from a melded media platform. This season, I had to enter into an Optus contract, for a phone I didn’t need, just so I could watch Premier League football on my laptop, a league I had previously received through Foxtel, a television service I was also able to enjoy via their app, which is still installed on the phone I do use.

    What a strange circle of electronics that is, and yet, as I have the millennial familiarity to juggle all these devices, I’ve never felt more able to access sport, from anywhere and at any time. Quite often, I used to miss West Ham United’s enthralling draws and defeats, scratched out as they were in the wee hours; now I can enjoy the full chagrin of a final-minute concession with ease, via catch-up, in the morning, from the comfort of my bed.

    Regardless of the gaudy “viewing” numbers, or the ways in which club heads will try and misuse them to promote their brands, the fact that football can be accessed as easily on Facebook as Aunt Ruth’s pictures of her newest crocheted masterpiece, can only bolster the sport’s health.

    Sporting leagues everywhere are cluing in to how an increased viewership – or, perhaps it might be better labelled, an ‘impressionership’ – can compensate for circumventing the traditional media platforms, either subscription, or those dotted with traditional advertising.

    By far the best way to watch the Australian Open is via Channel Seven’s slick and navigable online portal, where almost every match in play can be switched to, regardless of whether it’s being televised on the channel proper.

    The NFL have streamed entire games on Twitter, unperturbed by the irony of broadcasting a sport in which a handful of game-clock minutes can easily drag, via stoppages and timeouts, into dozens of real-time minutes, on a site entirely based around restricting the length of communication.

    Twitter also showed the Melbourne Cup live, as the world of technology-assisted gambling crunched its way into the heady equation.

    There is still a sense of the Old West about all of this, and when people attempt to nail down and assess the spiralling metrics that spew forth from social media, it can feel a little like nailing up some new scrawled diktat to the courthouse noticeboard of a lawless town.

    Earlier this month, a Manchester City fan, while attending a non-televised FA Cup match, streamed his view from the stands on Periscope, and drew a live viewing audience ten times that of the actual stadium attendance. As much as the internet seems a place of selfishness and vanity, it is, in fact, filled with altruistic, guerrilla Robin Hoods, freeing sport from the clutches of the swollen media corporations and broadcasting it, at their own risk, to the masses.

    The ethics of this are debatable, but it’s hard to argue vigorously in favour of a Murdoch-owned empire.

    When illegal streams of A-League games occur every round – on, of all platforms, the most mainstream one, Youtube – it seems as though the FFA, and the league, will eventually be forced to democratise technologically through sheer redundancy alone.

    There is an argument to be made – by us, of course, not those who stand to earn a financial boon from restricting access to the product – that, as exposure and growth are what the A-League need more than anything else, that free, public live-streaming of matches is something that should be happening now.

    Not too long ago, the only way to see football was from the stands. The romance of that must be preserved, as must the tangible, visceral sensation of leaping up to celebrate a goal with 40,000 other partisans. But the NPL is making productive forays into the new media landscape, and as they turn heads, it’s hard not to be excited.

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

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    The Crowd Says (8)

    • February 18th 2017 @ 6:23am
      Swanny said | February 18th 2017 @ 6:23am | ! Report

      This isn’t new

      The northern nsw n p l
      Have been live streaming games on you tube for the last 2-3 years . This is great if u can’t make it to the game for some reason .

      This live streaming is done with the local a f l , rugby and n r l
      You can watch the replay also

      • Roar Guru

        February 18th 2017 @ 8:27am
        Griffo said | February 18th 2017 @ 8:27am | ! Report

        Got to love Bar TV.

        • February 18th 2017 @ 10:09am
          Swanny said | February 18th 2017 @ 10:09am | ! Report

          Spent Many a lazy Sunday arvo watching bar tv

    • February 18th 2017 @ 9:45am
      Nemesis said | February 18th 2017 @ 9:45am | ! Report

      Great to see the State Federations driving this online strategy.

      It’s a no brainer. Your broadcast has the potential to reach more viewers than Foxtel, viewers will access your product for free and, depending on the broadcast platform, the is huge potential revenue from direct advertising.

      Based on my social media interactions with football fans in Australia, the number of people streaming pirate broadcasts of ALeague matches far exceeds the number who are watching on Foxtel. Of course, my sample may not be biased but the fact remains, from this sample of people on social media, more stream online pirate versions of ALeague than buy Foxtel.

      So, why not put the Aleague broadcast on a free platform and give everyone – not just in Australia, but everyone on the planet – the opportunity to watch ALeague?

      I’m not suggesting we ONLY stream matches & stop PayTV or FTA TV. I’m suggesting we add Free Online Streaming to the options for watching ALeague.

      The only 2 core criteria for picking an online provider:
      1) They must have proven reliability streaming video to large numbers of people (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube)
      2) They must be open access to the world – no geoblocking

      I wrote a piece on this a few months ago: How the FFA can make money by streaming A-League matches for free

      Being very conservative, I’m confident we could get 100k online viewers per Aleague match in Australia.

      With in-match advertising, the FFA can generate $2 per viewer. That’s an additional $28m per year revenue for FFA. When we expand to 12 teams in 2018/19 and have 198 H&A matches, the revenue would balloon to $40m per year.

      If we can monetise the global online viewing market… well, the numbers become frighteningly big.

      • February 18th 2017 @ 10:21am
        Paul said | February 18th 2017 @ 10:21am | ! Report


      • February 18th 2017 @ 2:09pm
        Midfielder said | February 18th 2017 @ 2:09pm | ! Report

        agree N

    • February 19th 2017 @ 2:22am
      Hammerhead said | February 19th 2017 @ 2:22am | ! Report

      Don’t think it’s new, there was a game streamed on the web between Western Knights and Dianella White Eagles in 2015.

      • February 19th 2017 @ 8:10am
        Nemesis said | February 19th 2017 @ 8:10am | ! Report

        Not so much new, but it’s becoming more regular & there’s more content (other than match day). In Victoria, I read the NPL issued stern instructions to all NPL clubs to get their online streaming up to a high quality level.

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