Last Sunday’s A-League Grand Final between Melbourne City and Sydney FC signalled the end of Fox Sports’ 16-year broadcast partnership with Australian football.
Over the course of this time, Fox Sports have had a substantial influence in showcasing historic moments that shaped this crucial period in Australian football, whether that was through the A-League, W-League, FFA Cup or Socceroos and Matildas matches.
For many years they developed these products effectively and these moments were given the appropriate coverage. However, in recent times their commitment to the game waned due to dropping linear TV ratings and a further shift to focusing on their ‘marquee’ sports in Rugby League, Cricket and Australian Rules.
Due to these multiplying factors, the Australian Professional Leagues (APL), a relatively new body who have now separated from the FA and effectively run the A-League and W-League, flexed their muscle and were first to announce a new broadcast partner in recent weeks in the form of ViacomCBS.
The US media company own Channel 10 in Australia and under the new deal an A-League game will be broadcast on the main channel of a commercial free-to-air station for the first time, every Saturday night (with a game in the W-League to be shown on a secondary channel every week).
The rest of the A-League and W-League games will be shown on new streaming platform Paramount+, which is set to launch in August of this year.
The deal presents an opportunity for the APL to make the domestic professional leagues appeal to the mainstream and tap into the young demographics that are prevalent across Network 10 programming.
Since the announcement of the deal, which also includes ViacomCBS purchasing a minor stake in the APL, we have seen snippets of cross promotion between A-League and W-League players on Channel 10’s flagship programs.
Michael Zullo and Jenna McCormick were featured prominently on The Project speaking about the game’s future, whilst Archie Thompson, a Melbourne Victory legend, will be a contestant on Celebrity MasterChef when the show airs later this year.
Efforts such as this, in normalising the sport and its heroes across the network, will ramp up in the months to come when the contract officially begins at the start of August.
Finally, the stories of our players will be told to a wider audience, in primetime slots, whether through variety shows or the pre-match lead-in program which will air before the A-League game every Saturday.
Alongside this, the APL administration are lining up a $30 million marketing strategy to grow the audience of the game, which is set to culminate in the creation of a digital hub for Australian football fans with expected content such as written stories, video content, news clips, behind the scenes footage and more.
While details remain scarce on the digital strategy, APL MD Danny Townsend told the Australian: “The digital product will be the biggest investment the game has ever made in itself. It is not just for A-League fans, it will be for football fans, participants, coaches, managers of grassroots clubs, members of A-League clubs, digital fans of other leagues around the world and so on.”
The focus of the strategy looks to incorporate the whole football pyramid, not just the professional game, but the question of how exactly NPL content will be included in the offering lingers unanswered.
Currently state and territory federations across Australia live-stream their NPL content through their Facebook or YouTube pages, or in Football NSW, Football Queensland and Football SA’s case through NPL.TV.
Will live-streaming of these matches now be broadcast on this new digital hub funded by the APL? That remains up in the air, but a nationally unified approach for NPL content may be more commercially appealing.
Townsend told this publication earlier in the year that talks have occurred to find the best solution: “We are up for working with the NPL and helping them grow the consumption of their content. They’ve got NPL.TV which is a fantastic initiative. How we work with that, with APL and our content, is important in bringing that unity back to the game.”
What will certainly help the APL’s mission of unity in the game was the follow-up announcement that the remaining Socceroos, Matildas and FFA Cup broadcast rights have also been snaffled up by ViacomCBS, with games to be shown on Channel 10 and Paramount+.
In a boost for the profile of the competition and the local clubs all across Australia who partake in it, the FFA Cup Final will for the first time be shown on free-to-air television.
The rest of the games in the Round of 32 onwards will be shown on Paramount+, with the competition set for a new name and fresh production values on the streaming platform.
The Socceroos and Matildas will also find a regular broadcast home on Channel 10 for games outside of the World Cup, after finding themselves on various free-to-air channels in the past few years.
Australian football may have departed from Fox Sports after a long-standing partnership, but significant investment from a new broadcast partner and stakeholders should push the game towards its potential.