The cat is out of the bag and unless something is done to arrest the A-League’s slide, there won’t be much of a competition to speak of beyond next season.
Mark Bosnich has never been one to mince his words. The former Socceroo was typically blunt on last night’s A-League round table on Fox Sports.
“It must be known to everyone that the ratings have fallen off the cliff the last two years,” Bosnich stated.
“Fox TV ratings… and also the commercial ratings for Channel Ten.”
“With how it’s going right now, the grand final as great as it was, was the lowest-rating grand final in A-League history,” he added.
That’s bleak news for a company that by Bosnich’s own admission has invested “over half a billion dollars” since the A-League kicked off in 2005.
And it matters because that broadcast money has essentially bankrolled the competition from day one.
So the A-League needs to find some new revenue streams – pardon the pun – and increasingly they’ll need to come from streaming.
But simple economics suggest that if fans prefer watching streams to more expensive cable TV subscriptions, there’s less money coming into the game.
That is, of course, unless the A-League manages to not only vastly increase the number of people watching streams but somehow monetises the whole thing as well.
And on the basis of what we’ve seen this season, that seems unlikely.
It’s hard not to wonder whether Football Federation Australia didn’t badly misjudge its own demographic before the season kicked off.
There seemed to be an expectation at the start of the season that only a few fans would watch A-League games on the My Football App through Telstra.
Instead there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that Fox Sports subscribers cut the cord in significant numbers.
And since Fox Sports’ own streaming service Kayo wasn’t launched until after the season kicked off, A-League fans weren’t encouraged to pay for content many could already watch for free on their phones anyway.
It was a perfect storm of poor timing and the net result has been to harden the attitudes of fans to the idea of paying to watch the A-League.
And the entrance of Optus Sport into the broadcast landscape has muddied the waters in ways that aren’t always obvious to the average football fan.
A little healthy competition is always good for consumers – after all, it didn’t take long for Kayo to launch once Optus had, admittedly with some difficultly, broadcast the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
But what the majority of A-League fans who insist Optus Sport will step into the breach fail to realise is that all the telecommunications provider is doing is re-broadcasting someone else’s content.
In other words, unless the A-League creates its own production arm, there’ll be no broadcast pictures for Optus Sport to transmit should Fox Sports decide to pull the plug.
And there’s a reason all this should have A-League watchers worried, and it has little to do with what we think of the current coverage.
It has much more to do with the existential crisis the FFA has seemingly unleashed upon itself.
Forced to put a price on the cost of tuning into the A-League this season, a large number of fans have made clear that price is zero.
And there’s no going back once people work out they can get for free something they once paid for.
The cat is out of the bag.
With the June 30 deadline looming for details of an independent A-League to be released, it’s safe to say this is the most critical off-season ever.
And dinosaurs like me, who prefer to watch their cable subscription through a big-screen TV instead of dealing with not-always-reliable streams, have to face the fact that times are changing.
So too do the FFA. Their track record suggests it won’t be an easy transition.