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Opinion

How much would you pay to watch the A-League on an app?

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Expert
15th June, 2020
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1421 Reads

I have an app for most things. From spirit levelling to sports scores and fuel prices to Flybuys, there is an app for just about everything a human being could desire in 2020.

Except that is, for A-League football.

When Optus Sport swooped on the EPL rights for a tidy sum in 2015, its app was destined to become the centrepiece of the coverage, alongside SBS’s minor involvement in the broadcasting structure.

Initially, it was only available to Optus customers, yet the opportunity to view each and every game, mini-matches and other content has now been made available to any Australian after an upgraded 2018 deal, that saw SBS leave the broadcasting table and Optus expand their coverage for an undisclosed amount.

Initially, they had paid A$63 million per season for the broadcasting rights and considering Optus’ solid growth and market share, the money appears to have been well spent.

In August 2019, the often quite coy entity when it comes to releasing accurate information in regards to subscriptions and the like, informed us all that over 700,000 Australians had taken up the opportunity to gain access to all 380 EPL matches.

Liverpool

Was the EPL deal a success for Optus? (Photo by Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

For the first time, broadcast on the one platform.

At A$14.99 per month for the privilege, that hypothetically produces around A$10.5 million of revenue in any thirty-day cycle.

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From that, Optus obviously make their required payment to the EPL, estimated at somewhere between A$5 million to A$6 million per month and from the remainder, fund the on-air talent, staff and associated production costs.

How accurate the revenue figure might be is questionable. I too am an Optus Sport customer, yet have never paid a cent for EPL content after signing my daughter up to a mobile phone contract in 2017. No doubt, I am not the only one and it is fair to wonder just how many others might well be in the same boat.

It makes the outlay versus revenue aspect of Optus’ arrangement with the league very tough to read.

Domestically, all is readiness for a return to A-League play after the PFA and FFA announced they had come to a formal agreement in regards to a recommencement. It will involve pay cuts, a frantic 28 days of football and a one-week finals series.

However, a sticking point remains and thus the future development of an FFA app continues to be discussed, debated and longed for by many.

In the short term and as the FFA and Fox Sports negotiate an arrangement that will hopefully see the final five rounds of the season shown by the host broadcaster, such an app means little; with its development and application still requiring years in the pipeline before coming to fruition.

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However, the notion of taking control of the production of the league and moving those costs in-house, avoids the dangerous and looming threat of a recalcitrant Foxtel walking away from its commitment to cover the A-League for a further three seasons.

For the app to ever happen successfully, the numbers will need to add up and any potential success of such a bold endeavour may well come down to the age old question, “How much are you willing to pay?”

In 2020, Global Sports and Media director Colin Smith estimated that the cost of producing a full season of A-League football would fall somewhere between A$12 to A$15 million.

If James Johnson is interested in pursuing such an arrangement and his rumoured trip to NEP, a production company used by Foxtel and the NRL did indeed take place, he will need to be confident in his numbers.

Should that road be hoed, broadcasts could be on-sold to Fox and/or Kayo or potentially another player, if Foxtel’s obviously strained relationship with the A-League see them depart stage left.

Any advertising revenue would also fall the way of FFA, yet there would also be a need to invest substantially in the W-League, an expanded Youth League and the second and third levels of Australian football when the NPL finally morphs into newly structured national competitions.

Doing so would raise production costs considerably, despite those competitions not requiring quite the same level of investment due to lower salaries for broadcasters, decreased technological requirements and the fewer staff employed in production roles.

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If Smith’s original estimates are somewhere near the mark, it would be reasonable to suggest that around A$30 million would be required for FFA to produce the fully professional and semi-professional domestic game.

Does Australia have enough people interested in the game and willing to purchase subscriptions to covers that cost? I have no idea.

I’d dare to suggest that the number willing to do so would not rival the 700,000 people Optus claim to have viewing EPL content on a regular basis. With A-League memberships sitting at around 126,000 for season 2019-20, those hardy souls would no doubt do so.

Roar and Wanderers.

How much would you pay per month to have an A-League app? (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Should those fans be willing to pay A$15 every thirty days, Johnson will have at least A$1.9 million entering the coffers each month during any given A-League season. That translates to around A$13.2 million over the course of a seven-month competition, still well short of the required mark.

Just how many football fans who are not paid members of their clubs would be interested in subscribing is tough to gauge.

National second and third division play would no doubt attract subscribers, yet to cover a hypothetical outlay of A$30 million, around 166,000 subscriptions would be required at a rate of A$15 per month for a full calendar year.

Would some A-League members potentially baulk at A$180 to stream football content? I’m not sure. If they would, that is problematic. Moreover, A and W League ratings figures suggest there isn’t an additional 200,000 to 300,000 Australians keenly awaiting an FFA app to stream football matches.

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Should that be the case, the most obvious approach is to increase the cost for subscribers, potentially placing financial stress on families and lowering overall take-ups.

In short, I have no idea how many people would subscribe to such an app, while also realising that should Foxtel walk, there may be no other choice. Nor is it easy to comprehend just how much people might be willing to spend on such a service.

These are the challenges that Johnson and his board will navigate in the near future and if the host broadcaster does wiggle out of its current deal, they may well need to face that challenge sooner rather than later.