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Opinion

For its own sake, Channel Ten should do a lot more with the A-Leagues

Roar Rookie
7th December, 2021
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Roar Rookie
7th December, 2021
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The biggest issue the A-Leagues have, contributing to poor viewing figures and the missed opportunity of growing crowds, is the unimaginative broadcasting arrangements.

On Saturday night, the only live free-to-air match of Round 3 had an audience of just 85,000 for a primetime match.

Poor, but predictably so considering the fixture. Who, outside of fans of Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets fans, actually wanted to watch those two teams play? And why was that game shown into Victoria when a game between two Melbourne clubs was on at the exact same time?

This is such a baffling broadcasting mistake that mature football leagues don’t make. The NFL does not let Fox broadcast the Cleveland Browns against Jacksonville Jaguars into the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex instead of the Cowboys.

Local teams get local broadcasting priority. It’s a common-sense rule of maximising audiences.

Maximising audience is crucial for football, Ten and Paramount.

Hunter Fujak’s seminal book on Australia’s football codes’ competition for popularity, The Code Wars, includes a critical observation that should give great hope to the people who love Australian football and the A-Leagues. That observation comes from the UK and relates to rugby league, a sport marginalised in the media, just as the A-Leagues have been here.

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Back in 1995, English rugby league had a cumulative BBC audience of 49 million people per season. The next year they switched to Sky’s pay-TV platform and the audience fell to just 7 million per season. They got lots more money though.

Fujak further reports that overall interest in league fell by half over the first seven years that it was hidden away on pay TV.

We have an opportunity to go the other way. Both the APL and their broadcast partners ought to be thinking about how to expose the league to its large, lapsed audience that has drifted away over the last five years. There is a lot of lost ground to be regained.

Unfortunately, the reality of viewing practices is that just one FTA slot per week is not habit-forming for part-time fans. Miss that game and you’ve missed everything for that entire week. Mature and successful leagues prioritise easy-TV access to maintain their fan support.

There are better ways to utilise Ten’s FTA component to grow the game.

Bryleeh Henry of Western Sydney

(Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Firstly, why limit exposure to just one game per week? Who is helped by such limited exposure? No-one except the Paramount subscription manager.

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But would they too not want a bigger A-Leagues audience to work with? It would make sense to treat the Paramount-A-Leagues relationship as a start-up venture that has a few years to prove itself. That would mean leveraging the FTA exposure via Ten to grow engagement, which can then be turned into subscriptions later on.

But if we must stick with one game per week, why not show both games? Do a live cross from one game to the other when a goal is scored. How much good was the multi-cast FFA Cup nights when Fox Sports would have four concurrent games to show? It’s more fun for neutrals to follow multiple games than just one, and fans of the teams of the secondary broadcast can still get a taste of their teams’ fortunes while they watch the main feature.

The best option, though, is to load the broadcast schedule with fixtures that are tailored to each TV audience.

Give Adelaide as many Reds games as possible. Give Perth as many Glory games as possible. Turn the broadcast fixture into an advertising platform for the clubs. Maximise their exposure. Help them fill their stadiums and, in time, the fuller stadiums will make for a better TV product.

That’s the virtuous cycle this broadcasting relationship could generate if only there was some creativity with the broadcasting plan.

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As a part-owner of the A-Leagues, Ten-Paramount should see the need to grow the value of its investment. And that cannot be achieved without greater exposure for the league and its constituent clubs.

If the broadcasters and the APL really wanted to, we could do the opposite of what English rugby league did.

At the moment, Ten is replicating the weaknesses of the previous ABC and SBS coverage. It’s time to throw out that paradigm and try something that is tried and tested in other, more successful sports.

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