The teenage years are always troublesome and it would appear that the A-League is going to be and extremely troublesome teenager for the Board and powers that be at the FFA.
Clubs owners are still losing money hand over fist, one franchise is now believed to be on the market to any buyer who will pay off its debts. Another that was offering to sell 80% for $11million earlier in the year is now allegedly offering a 20% stake for $4million purely to gain some financial injection to meet obligations.
Perth Glory CEO Peter Filopoulos this week highlighted in his private blog that football needed to learn from the marketing done by Cricket to promote the Big Bash League, and try and achieve a similar presence for the A-League. He is not alone in that belief. He did quite rightly highlight that the A-League lasts longer than the Big Bash League so football faces some different challenges.
This is an interesting comparison as the Head of the A-League Damien de Bohun was the Executive General Manager, Game and Market Development for Cricket Australia before joining the FFA. One of the things that he did at Cricket Australia was set up the Big Bash League. Sadly according to sources within the FFA de Bohun has not been given funds or resources to maintain or raise the profile of the A-League, because those higher up the tree see the main focus as being the Socceroos, and that the Socceroos “Brand” will be the one that pulls in new fans to football.
There is no doubt that the marketing of the A-league has become less and less each season with Fox Sports being the main promoter, but sadly to a limited audience, and many of whom are already fans.
Mr Filopoulos’s blog raised a very interesting question, should the FFA be marketing the A-League or should that responsibility rest with the A-League clubs themselves? After all each franchise receives $2.5million each season from the television deal. Surely a percentage of those funds should be spent on marketing and not just paying wages? One thing is for sure most Franchise owners would be none too happy if the FFA held some funds back to market the game on behalf of all.
Another issue that has been gaining a great deal of media coverage of late in relation to the A-League is the television coverage. Currently Fox pays the FFA around $40 million a year for the rights to show the A League. That is in comparison to the $25 million it pays for the rights to show Premier League matches between early August and mid May.
In November it was announced that Fox had lost those broadcast rights to Optus who were reported to have agreed to pay $63million a year for the next three years. This will be an interesting development, not just for Australia, but football in general. Recently two television stations in Asia, who like Fox had the EPL Broadcast rights, were told that their bids were not high enough in the new negotiations. Both walked away from the EPL coverage stating that to pay anymore would simply not be viable. What those selling the rights appear to have failed to realise is that the television stations need to make money over and above their investment, through subscriptions and advertising. In a tough global economy they cannot simply hike their rates, especially when there are less people willing to advertise on television.
It was reported that the CEO of the FFA, David Gallop, was positive that the A-League would benefit from Fox no longer having the EPL coverage, and that much of that $25million would be redirected to the local game. This was naive in the extreme. Most Foxtel subscribers who watch football, pay for their subscription to watch the EPL and the reason the A-League games on a Saturday have the higher viewing figures is because the A-League games lead into the EPL coverage.
The FFA were criticised for not having any free-to-air coverage and then brokered a deal with SBS where games would be shown live on a Friday night. Sadly the viewing figures have been disappointing. Certainly for those on the West Coast the timing of such games is dreadful. With the three hour time difference many fans are still at work when the match kicks off.
There is however another issue with SBS being given the hosting rights, and one that few want to talk about. SBS was without doubt in the NSL days the only place to go for football. Johnny Warren and Les Murray were the television evangelists for the sport. Yet sadly when Johnny Warren passed away things changed. The station had always promoted the South American style of football, but suddenly rather than just promoting the hispanic game there was a clear shift in dissing the English or British game. Even players and coaches in Australia who came from this part of the world were often subjected to unfair criticism based purely on their country of origin. As one ex pat said “If they had attacked any other race in Australia there would have been an outrage, but because we poms treat it as water off a ducks back, they get away with it.”
As someone born and raised in the UK the Anglophobia of pundits who actually made money from playing football in Britain became too much, and football on SBS no longer became a must watch. Many other British followers of the game as well as other fans from other backgrounds felt the same, and SBS’s reputation as the football channel diminished. This could have a great deal to do with the viewing figures achieved, and certainly does not help the FFA and the A-League competition.
Fox sports has now become the ‘home of football.’ They have invested greatly in the game and showed their desire to be the home of football when they recruited the best football commentator in the country in Simon Hill. Their employing of Mark Bosnich was a brave one after his much publicised past, but he has been a revelation. The trouble is Bosnich is a stand alone. He is the one person willing and brave enough to say what he thinks on a game, a coach, a player, or an issue within the game. Maybe he has been given the job security that others haven’t and that is why he knows he can be outspoken. Sadly many of the other experts privileged to be involved sit on the fence giving safe answers that will not offend the FFA and keep them in a job.
This may sound harsh, but they and Fox are in a difficult position. Fox is the broadcast partner of the FFA, and the FFA therefore see their main role as promoting the game. Yet ten years into the A-League should Fox still be a propaganda machine for the A-league and the FFA? It was reasonable in the early years as the league was finding its niche, and it was very much a partnership, as both were looking to grow together. The question to ask is whether Sky Sports is a propaganda machine for the EPL? Of course the league is older and more established, but they have paid for the rights and they discuss the issues that the fans are talking about in the pubs. They impart insider knowledge and the fans lap it up.
Despite paying for the rights Fox still have to be careful. They are walking a tightrope in terms of their relationship with the FFA and also the viewers. With social media today fans often know what is going on at a club before the clubs make an official announcement. Fans are far better informed. They also know what is a good game of football and what isn’t, so it is hard to try and be positive about a bad game and keep the paymaster happy, while at the same time not disrespecting the viewer by not being honest and calling it for what it is.
There has always been a push to introduce new fans to the game both via television and through the turnstiles. As fans are the ones who make the game viable. They are the key component. Yet once again it is a fine line. Do you dumb down the game and dazzle the new viewer with pretty faces to pull in those who do not understand its subtle nuances, or do you try and pull those new to the game up to the level of knowledge that those who have grown up with it have?
As the A-League enters its teenage years one feels that there needs to be a combination of both in order to achieve the goals that the television stations seek in order to make money, and the FFA want in terms of fans.
When Perth Glory was admitted into the old NSL Channel Seven in Perth produced a show called Glory Days. To most true football fans it was puerile. Yet it served a purpose. It pulled in young fans, as well as those who were not as familiar with the game. It helped the club build up a fan base. Many young fans who watched that show are the ones still showing loyalty and going to watch Glory during these turbulent times. Back then for the discerning football fan there were more in-depth conversations and analysis on a number of radio stations. There was a show to suit your palate and knowledge. Unfortunately currently SBS and Fox are simply both serving the same dish in order to keep the FFA happy, and when you are given the same meal time and again you end up going in search of something new.