Saturday, October 24, 2009
Hanging by a Cable - update
The A-League on free-to-air TV? A worthwhile aim, but wishful thinking at the moment. It is hard to see any of the commercial networks being willing to fit even a single game into their crowded weekend schedules, and coverage on the ABC or SBS would not bring in anything like sufficient revenue. It's possible that one of the new digital channels might give the local competition a go, but it still seems like slim pickings.
I've commented on the history of football's encounters with free-to-air TV in the past, so I won't cover old ground. But now, more than ever, with interest in the domestic league plainly waning, it looks like being an uphill struggle to convince the FTA broadcasters to take an interest.
The other issues that Lowy has touched on are closely related to the central one of crowds and TV coverage. Promotion and relegation has been barely mentioned by the FFA since the introduction of the A-League, but now, with crowds down, it suddenly seems an attractive concept. Whatever its impracticability in the short term, I've always been of the belief that eventually it will need to play a part in the A-League.
The familiar counter-argument - that promotion/relegation systems are alien to the Australian sporting landscape - ignores the fact that many fans of the domestic competition follow the European game closely as well, where relegation scraps are not only a fact of life, but a source of considerable excitement towards the end of the season. A more reasonable point is that the A-League clubs would not survive demotion to a second league, and this in particular makes a two-tier system problematic (to say the least) for a few years yet.
And then there's the question of when to begin the A-League season. Although the cross-over with the AFL and NRL finals had its inevitable effect, I tend to think that this has been overstated somewhat. More significant, surely, was the lack of marketing prior to the start of the season; the anticipated post-AFL/NRL promotional blitz has not eventuated.
It's hard to suggest a panacea for the A-League's many current problems. I still feel that the greatest immediate benefit would come from concentrating on the essential "product" - the football. There has been some improvement this season, but more is required to make it a genuinely crowd-pleasing competition. A more adventurous approach, greater focus on attack rather than defence, less frantic pressuring of the opposition so as to save some energy for when possession is recovered.
The A-League will never challenge the top leagues of Europe in terms of quality, but it can be made into a better spectacle. But this requires a significant shift in mentality among both coaches and players.
There are plenty of issues elsewhere, but a more attractive on-field product will make these a little easier to resolve.
Hmmm but how many of these fans actually support relegation threatened clubs? Not many.
I have a feeling it will be Fox will get the rights but there will be 1-2 games a week + highlight show on FTA.
Whether they can afford the going price is a going question. More than likely Foxtel will retain the rights, but will at least have to outbid some competition.
And Gold Coast fans get to watch some of the best talent in the country - culina, porter, smeltz, the new thwaite ... but are rushing through the turnstiles.
IMHO fixing some of the off the field issues will make people more forgiving of what they get on field.
"Alarming drop-off in A-League crowds"
Maybe the drop is not as significant here in Melbourne than other areas, but there seems to be lots of panic about crowds. Yes, they are down, but maybe they are reaching a more natural level?
Football will never match the attendances of the AFL (especially in the AFL states). We have to face that our code will not be the top code in our lifetimes for most of us. It will follow lots of other sports where interest peaks at big events (ie World Cups and Olympics) and wane when these events finish. Some will come on board but most will go back to the sports they have always followed.
I think is a question of perception. I think that in season one Lowy told that he was aiming at an average attendance of 11,000 for the whole A-league. Now I don't know whether we are in the ball-park but that is a realistic target. I remember when the Victorian Government planned for the new stadium (another thing that wouldn't have happened in the old days) and decided on 30,000 many fans got angry stating that it was too small. They saw 50,000 attendances and thought that the sky was the limit. I always thought that we would never keep those crowds and they would drop back to a more realistic level.
I remember when the PFA did a submission about the restructure of football in Australia before the Crawford Report and they suggested playing in 'boutique stadia' with a capacity of 7,000-10,000. I think that is what we should have. Trying to match the other codes and playing home and away matches in huge stadia is unrealistic. I also think that some people getting involved in football may be a bit unrealistic about how big the game can get here.
Free to air coverage
There are arguments on both points. One one hand precisely because football is not a major sport Pay TV offers those who are really interested the chance of seeing it by paying for it directly. A FTA commercial channel would need proof that it rates sufficiently for advertisers be willing to pay for it to go to air, which is risky. On the other hand FTA is the only way the majority of the population may be exposed to the game. Personally I would be wary to give the A-League to digital channels such as ONE HD unless we had iron cast guarantees that the FFA would be remunerated sufficiently for it. Also ONE HD I think doesn't cover many non metro areas of Australia. The best of both worlds is for some arrangement where FOX keeps all the live matches and a commercial channel gets a package. Of course a commercial channel may want also to cover a live match if it is played let's say in the afternoon. In summer I have seen Channel 10 showing life saving and channel 7 showing endless tennis of player ranked 210 against player ranked 109, so I am sure that an A-League match wouldn't rate less than those.
This is an interesting one as I do believe that relegation is alien to the Australian sport culture. On the other hand it is an essential element of football culture, so much so that the AFC wants us to implement it. If we had a 'pure' football tournament which is traditional we wouldn't have a final series either. But because Australians are so used to having finals amongst top teams the A-League has followed the same path. I believe that it will take a very long time for the culture to change so that people are comfortable with the concept of relegation. Even now in the A-Leagues teams that perform badly have a significant drop in attendances. Imagine if a team drops a tier. It would go bankrupt! I suspect the whole thing was aimed at assuring the AFC that we are thinking about it, and also FIFA people that may have to choose between Australia and the USA, which also doesn't have relegation, for the World Cup.
Overall the whole progress of football in Australia is a marathon, not a sprint.
ONE HD would seem to be the logical partner. Channel 7's committment to AFL and their poor past history in relation to football would rule them out. Channel 9's committment to the Cricket and League would make them a very unlikley partner.
That would leave SBS. And although I believe they would do a excellent job in terms of support and coverage I think the FFA will be looking for more $$$ they they could afford.
That leave Channel 10 and their ONE HD. The sports channel is crying out for decent content and Channel may see this as a chance to partner with a sport in the long term. Of course it is likely that ONE is also looking at the Super 14 rights as well.
Although I agree that Foxtel retaining the majority of the rights for the A-league is likely I do believe the FFA will use the Socceroo rights to leverage a signficant amount of content onto either ONE or SBS.
My guess will be a match of the round live (Likely to be a Sunday Afternoon) and right to all vision for a Highlights Package.
Digital TV - ie channel 10's 1 has plenty of space.
'It's hard to suggest a panacea for the A-League's many current problems. I still feel that the greatest immediate benefit would come from concentrating on the essential "product" - the football. There has been some improvement this season, but more is required to make it a genuinely crowd-pleasing competition. A more adventurous approach, greater focus on attack rather than defence, less frantic pressuring of the opposition so as to save some energy for when possession is recovered.'
The A-League has far too many people with football skills making decisions and far too few with entertainment industry and market development skills. The FFA has demonstrated they have little idea about market segmentation. In particular, they are confused about how to advise clubs on effective pricing strategies.
The AFL's ticketing is totally centralised. I have discussed their strategies with them. They regularly view the EPL, Gridiron and other entertainment businesses. The are laughing at FFA's approach. Their current strategy is ensure that western Sydney does not go to the A-League (the FFA is helping them with their botched decisions on Sydney Rovers) and ensuring Gold Coast is AFL - again Clive Palmer is helping them.
It is dream to that all teams playing one touch football and screaming up the wings, getting in behind the defence is going to help now.
The only hope for football - coming down from 4 million people watching John Aloisi qualifying us in 2005 - is getting to a broader audience. And having 'stars' and 'star teams' in key markets - Melbourne (tick), Sydney (need another Yorke), Brisbane (need new money and new players). Otherwise it looks a lot like the strategies of the NSL (a few of those teams did play 'football' and got quite a few players into the EPL).