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Free to air, why we should care…

After the delayed coverage of the 2017 A-League Grand Final SBS ended their involvement with the league, with no free to air (FTA) replacement on the horizon.  Over the last week or so Channel Seven has popped their ugly head up and surveyed the situation; Meerkatting if you will, sensing a bargain.

The reality of the current situation is the A-League is as popular as half the Western Sydney squad the day after the season has finished, not really wanted by anyone but if they stick around surely someone will pick them up before the hard rubbish collection hits the Parramatta streets.

I for one (and there isn’t many of us) enjoyed the SBS coverage last season and given both their creative and financial restraints would conclude they have served the game well during their tenure.  Given only the Friday night game was akin to entering into a time share with your neighbour but not being able to use the holiday house during school holidays, long weekends or any other requested times.  Unlike the AFL, the A-League doesn’t rate the Friday night game at all, with the Saturday prime time game holding down the marquee timeslot.  The Friday night game is simply just another fixture.

A history of poor ratings on FTA the A-League has become an unwanted product, and given the public’s appetite for rubbish reality television or fast moving, high action sport it’s easy to see why.  Giving the Saturday night timeslot (shared coverage with Foxtel) to FTA can only be seen as a necessary move to gain sufficient interest for the league.  The quality of games will increase dramatically with the majority of derbies and marquee match ups will now be shown on FTA but given the overwhelming disconnection between the league and the Australian public this will be a very tough nut to crack.

Foxtel have played a large part in shaping our league over the last twelve years of so and the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) has received sufficient remuneration but we must ask ourselves ‘Can the league survive on subscription interest alone?’    Personally I don’t think it can, and you only have to look at current subscriber rates to justify this.  With around 3 million subscribers in Australia Foxtel is the market leader in pay television I would guestimate 25-30% of Australian’s have access to Foxtel.  Assuming most have access to the sports package (why else would you have Foxtel with streaming options substantially cheaper) you would say the FFA are capturing 35-40% of their potential market. 

Without a substantial FTA partner the game is facing an uphill battle, even with the assistance of Tim Cahill and Yoshi.  The FFA needs a strong FTA partner to both raise the interest in the game and reach its potential audience.  Attendance figures have remained steady in the last few seasons but we must be realistic about the power that television plays in reaching our large nation, one cannot easily attend away games and we don’t have the same football culture that is intrinsically part of the European or South American lifestyle.  One cannot simply walk into your local and presume the A-League will be broadcast.  Access to football in Australia is a complicated issue.

So what is the solution?  One cannot expect every A-League fan to shell out a minimum of $65 (High definition) per month just to watch the domestic league and with no league pass on the horizon you cannot see the reachable A-League audience improving.

We should show the interest of Channel Seven the respect that it deserves and ignore it, like the network has ignored football in the past.  Any relationship between the A-League and Channel Seven would be detrimental to the game and would only present a short term solution.  We know the chequered history that football has with seven and we also have to take into account Channel Seven would be showing the A-League at the same time as the tennis, and AFL. 

Any FTA deal isn’t going to provide huge financial reward to the FFA and should be approached as such.  This should be seen as a long term benefit for the game, not just an extra pay day (a small one) for the FFA.  FTA is required to grow the league and give an on air television presence for all television sets across Australia.  If everyone has access to football it gives them the option of watching the game, if only 25-30% of households have access to the game it stunts the growth of the sport and shows short sighted management.

Personally I think it would be in the best interest of the FFA to approach SBS about hosting the FTA coverage for a minimal fee for the next few seasons.  Historically SBS has given football the respect it deserves and is known Australia wide for its football coverage.  Saturday night games would give SBS a greater opportunity to reach a greater audience and with some well directed marketing could work hand in hand in growing the league to a wider range of football fans.

As a football fan I would rather our game be shown on SBS as the preferred FTA partner.  The FFA should be prepared to take a small financial hit in order to give the fans what they deserve.

About David Hards (482 Articles)
The Founder of FTSAUS. A foundation Melbourne City man who is more than willing to voice his opinion, no matter how wrong it could be. An average goalkeeper or makeshift right back who had more bad days than good on the pitch, but still loved every minute of it. Follow on Twitter: @Hardsy05
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