Monday, October 02, 2006

Do We Want the A-League or Not?

Now I'm angry, and I'm on a mission, and I'm asking people to help.

Especially with this sudden move to the new 'Fox 3', it is impossible for me to watch the A-League today. Believe me I tried. I went to five pubs. The Muddy Farmer, The Clarence, The Morrison, The Red Brick and the Boundary. None of them had heard of Fox 3, and even those who tried (Muddy Farmer and Clarence) couldn't get it. They couldn't find out how either as Fox technical assistance (according to Lee, the owner of the Clarence) ends at 5pm.

Now, sure I could get Fox Sport for myself. Firstly I simply can't afford it just now, but even if I could there's an extremely important issue here for the future of our game in Australia. I mean it. This should concern every one of us who has a desire for football to grow in our country, and we should not forget that it remains precarious. The survival, let alone growth, of the A-League is no sure thing.

I want answers to these questions:

1) How many households have Fox Sport in Australia (and SKY Sport in NZ - I have no doubt this is holding back the following of the game there too)?

2) How much did Fox pay for the A-League?

3) How much would/could SBS, ABC or a commercial free-to-air channel pay?

4) Who did the deal, and what is it exactly? I want details.

Without answers to at least some of these questions, I can't be sure, but right now I'm strongly suspecting that the economics of the A-League has a very short-term vision behind it. Apart from the broadcasting rights, the money is in sponsorships, game-tickets, food & beer at games, and merchandise. The first of these is by far the most important (I suspect dwarfing broadcasting rights) and all of these are dependent on everyday people following the game.

If the football was a viewing option on the weekends for people who may have enjoyed the World Cup but are otherwise indifferent (most people I know), people would be exposed to the game, and the game (because it is beautiful and evokes all the state-tribal instincts of every other gaming code) would grow. So the extra money from broadcasting rights from Fox (that is the amount minus what would/could be got from a free-to-air broadcaster) has to cover a large (and an increasing) opportunity cost.

I frankly suspect that not only is Fox furnishing a big cheque, but their also furnishing FFA executives with dinners, sweeteners and perks, because the interests of the game - and I'm talking about straight economics and growth - are not being put first. I can be proved wrong, but only with hard numbers. I seriously doubt I will be proved wrong.

Football is far from being a 'mature product' in Australia, unlike in Europe. In Europe the need to see the football would drive people to buy Fox to do so, and at the same time it would be impossible for a pub not to have the bloody game on. Here, it just ain't so. To get from here to there, we need free-to-air. Anyone who reckons otherwise, start talking. This tragic needs some serious convincing.

Once again, this to me is the single biggest problem facing our game right now - bigger than the quality of play, club management and coaching (also important, lest I be misunderstood).



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fox offered $120million for broadcasting rights to the A-League and most Socceroos matches for 7 years beginning 2007. The deal was accepted because:
a) The FTA channels didn't offer any meaningful amounts
b) Fox's market penetration may be limited, but at least they'll show the matches (Remember when Channel 7 had the rights to the NSL?). The A-League is rating extremely well presently.
c) The FFA needed financial security in the short term which the Fox television deal provided.

Far from the FFA being short-sighted I think it's you who is. The growth of the sport cannot happen overnight, not even in one or two years. Ensuring that the new domestic league was stable and viable was the priority for the first few seasons. The growth from here will be slow, but steady. When the Fox deal expires in 7 years, perhaps then there'll be enough interest from the commercial channels to get the league on free-to-air television.

Just be patient. It's early days yet.

October 03, 2006 9:00 pm  
Blogger drsimmo said...

Agree with what's said above. Patience is really important here. That and getting to as many games as you can :-) I reckon the Roar will have a venue where fans gather to watch away games; Sydney FC does.

Looking forward to Queensland visiting Sydney this weekend. Should be a cracker!

October 04, 2006 8:25 am  
Blogger Hamish said...

Thanks to both of you for your replies. I'm sure you're right re: patience, and don't worry, I'll be at every Roar game at Suncorp. If anyone knows a venue a bit closer to Brisbane than Richmond (where the Roar clubhouse is) to watch away games please do let me know. Meanwhile, I'm sure the pubs will work it out eventually.

Just to confirm the point 'Anonymous' is making in regard to the Football Federation's options, here's an extract from an interview with Les Murray I found here:

“The FFA decided to award television rights for the A-League to Fox Sports. Were you disappointed with the decision considering SBS has such a wider available audience than Fox?

No we weren't because we really didn't bid seriously for that property. It did come down to a matter of money for us and we really had to choose between pursuing the rights to the A-League and pursuing the rights to the Socceroos and we chose the Socceroos. We felt that that property was more important to us than the A-League. The A-League is quite expensive because its production costs are very high; covering four games a week is very expensive process and we just basically stepped aside. We did offer air time, we did say if they wanted us to produce a highlights program on free to air television on the A-league we would do that but we simply didn't go into an auction … with Fox Sports.”

So I was half-cocked on that front. But look, I stand by a general concern that:

a) a complete football tragic with considerable effort was unable to watch an A-League game (it was only fortune that meant I could watch a Roar game in Brisbane the day before as again the pubs didn't know how);

b) the growth of the A-League television audience is wedded to the growth of Fox. The latter, from my research, is by no means secure, as it appears to have plateaued in about 2003. Maybe the new deal with Optus might help things.

Anyway, the whole sorry experience (of missing what sounds like a ripper of a game) has provoked me to take an interest in these most boring aspects of our game. My research will continue.

Meanwhile... yeah, patience. Cheers.

October 04, 2006 11:50 am  
Anonymous Vando said...

OK Hamish, you have got me thinking and I've decided to keep my blog going with some more football stuff (time at work permitting). It won't be as detailed as your blog but I'll chip in with special (eg mostly useless) comments on the game!

By the way, I agree with the other blokes above.

Is there a way a bunch of Roar supporters can approach a bar in town and guarantee a showing of support if they play Roar games? If I was a pub owner I'd give it an ear.


October 05, 2006 6:17 pm  
Blogger Hamish said...

Cheers Vando. Good to see you back in business. I've linked you and am having a look around your blog now.

I'm trying to convince my local club, El Salvador, to get Fox and have A-Leage nights. They have a big screen and a licence, but maybe the price of Fox (for a public venue) might put it out of the question. We'll see.

October 05, 2006 6:48 pm  

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