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How should the A-Leagues screen ads during free-to-air broadcasts?

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Expert
20th February, 2022
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The A-Leagues need the advertising revenue generated by free-to-air broadcasts on Channel Ten, but the breaks in play to screen ads are starting to attract the wrong kind of attention.

I’m not going to sit here on a website funded by advertising and criticise the A-Leagues for securing some desperately needed broadcast revenue.

When Channel Ten owners ViacomCBS signed a $200 million deal to broadcast the A-Leagues for the next five years they didn’t do so because they’re lifelong football fans. They did it to make money, and running paid advertising during live sporting broadcasts has always been an effective way to ensure a return on investment.

But when the league’s newest cult hero calls the marquee Saturday night men’s fixture “stale” owing to frequent breaks in play, it’s time to acknowledge the A-Leagues have a few issues with advertising.

“It was quite a stale game. I’ve never been at a game where it gets stopped that long,” new Central Coast striker Jason Cummings said in the post-game interview following Melbourne Victory’s last-gasp 1-0 win over the Mariners on Saturday night.

“The VAR takes about ten minutes to stop with that (goal review). He’s (referee Adam Kersey) stopping the game for a commercial break,” said the nonplussed former Hibernian star.

Jason Cummings

(Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

And the breaks in play to screen ads on free-to-air broadcasts have been exceedingly obvious, none more so than during Sydney FC’s 1-1 draw with Western United last Saturday when the two teams stopped for drinks breaks amid torrential rain.

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That move seemed to catch Sydney FC coach Steve Corica off guard, with the Sky Blues tactician complaining after the match that stopping the game “was for TV”.

Victory coach Tony Popovic was more circumspect after Saturday’s win, with both he and Mariners coach Nick Montgomery acknowledging they’d been informed of the ad breaks at the start of the season.

“The drinks break, whether that’s for TV or not, I think we would all love the game to keep flowing – but we were made aware of this before the season,” Popovic said.

The question is whether these breaks are in keeping with the spirit of the game.

Football Australia doesn’t seem to think so, with Sydney Morning Herald journalist Dom Bossi revealing that the FA’s head of referees, Nathan Magill, would be investigating whether the stoppages conform with FIFA laws.

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But from a viewing perspective, the real question is how much these ads are taking away from the game.

Several times this season the Channel Ten broadcast has cut away from the action with commentators Simon Hill and Robbie Thomson mid-sentence.

That might be the price to pay for watching a linear TV broadcast instead of streaming the games on Paramount+, but given how difficult it has at times been to do the latter, you can hardly begrudge fans for simply wanting to switch on the box and settle in for the game.

Surely showing squeezebacks – those in-game ads where the screen is reduced and the advertising runs as a graphic along the border – is a less intrusive way of running advertising.

The ad debate rounded out a ho-hum weekend for the A-League men capped off by Ben Garuccio’s spectacular scorpion kick in Western United’s 3-2 win over Western Sydney Wanderers on Sunday night.

It should have been the easiest goal in the world to share across social media, but by the time the official A-League account did so on Twitter – almost 40 minutes after the fact – the video had already been viewed tens of thousands of times on The Real ALM account.

And of course they were forced to take it down – which meant that instead of admiring Garuccio’s outrageous skill, the thousands of people who retweeted it across the globe were now staring at a blank screen.

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These aren’t difficult things to get right.

This might be a transitional season for the A-Leagues, but it’d be nice if that transition were a little bit more accommodating of fans.

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