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Fox Sports exits the room but bright times ahead for Australian football’s broadcast future

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.

Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

Football Coaches Australia presents ‘The Football Coaching Life Podcast’ S3 Ep 2 with Gary Cole interviewing Steve Corica

Corica FCA

Steve Corica is Head Coach of A-League Men at Sydney FC, where he narrowly missed out on three A-League Championships in a row, losing to Melbourne City in the Grand Final last season. What a remarkable start to his first senior head coaching role!

He played his junior football in Innisfail in North Queensland, before heading to the Australian Institute of Sport and playing just under 500 professional games in Australia, England and Japan.

Steve’s preparation for coaching began while he was playing, and he started to gain his coaching licences before taking on an assistant role with the Sydney FC Youth Team.

He served a seven-year apprenticeship at Sydney with the Youth Team and then as an assistant to Vitezslav Lavicka, Frank Farina and Graham Arnold before taking on the Head Coach role in 2018. He learned from each of these coaches and also learned, like most ‘he didn’t know, what he didn’t know’ when taking on the Head Coaching Role.

Steve believes that team and club culture are key to success. He understands that while he is the driver of the culture, that buy-in from all of the players is integral to behaviours being demanded from the playing group of one another.

Steve’s ‘one piece of wisdom’ was ‘to be yourself’. Know how you want to play, the style of football you want to play. Be strong when you do get setbacks, but believe in what you’re doing, stay strong and keep believing in the style of football you want to play.

Please join me in sharing Steve Corica’s Football Coaching Life.

A-League supporter numbers grow – but 2 million football fans still unattached

Despite attendances dropping in A-League matches over the past few years, supporter numbers across the board have grown in the past 12 months, according to a recent Roy Morgan report.

“A-League clubs have enjoyed a substantial increase in support over the last year in line with the increases seen for other football codes such as the AFL and NRL,” Roy Morgan Industry Communications Director, Julian McCrann, stated.

“Over 3.6 million Australians now profess support for an A-League club, an increase of over 1 million (+38.3%) on a year ago.”

“As we have seen across other football codes the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many sports to be played in front of empty stadiums but live on TV to supporters stuck at home in the many lockdowns we have seen over the last 18 months around Australia.”

Sydney FC have the biggest supporter base with 640,000 fans according to the report, a 32% increase on last year’s numbers.

Melbourne Victory were also well placed on the supporter ladder, slightly behind Sydney with 632,000 fans, an increase of 46% on a year ago.

A-League Men’s champions Melbourne City and expansion side Macarthur FC also saw impressive numbers of increased support.

“Another big winner over the last year has been Melbourne City which won its first A-League Men Championship earlier this year after defeating Sydney FC in the Grand Final (between Melbourne’s fourth and fifth lockdowns) in late June,” McCrann said.

“Melbourne City’s support has increased by an impressive 50.9% on a year ago to 249,000 to have the highest support of any A-League Men expansion team.

“The newest club in the A-League Men, Macarthur FC, has had a successful first season in the league with a finals appearance, a victory in an Elimination Final, and a loss to eventual Champions Melbourne City in the semi-final.

“Not only has Macarthur FC performed strongly on the pitch but they have already attracted 84,000 supporters to rank in tenth place overall.”

Whilst all A-League sides saw an increase in supporters in 2021, Central Coast Mariners experienced the largest percentage rise from 2020 – with fan numbers growing by 90%.

In regards to television numbers, over 1.5 million Australians watch the A-League Men’s competition.

However, the report states that 3.5 million Australians watch any football match on television, including leagues such as the English Premier League or international tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup.

This represents a huge untapped audience of around 2 million Australians, something which should be capitalised on.

“Looking ahead, the challenge for the A-League will be to continue to grow the league in an increasingly competitive sporting market and find a way to connect with the millions of Australians who love their football but don’t presently engage with the A-League,” McCrann said.

“There are over 2 million Australians out there who watch high quality football competitions, such as the English Premier League, who are yet to become fans of the A-League. This at-hand market of 2 million Australians is a significant market for the A-League to target during the recovery from Covid-19.”

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL), the new body running the professional game in this country, have continually emphasised in their messaging that they want to target football fans of all types to engage with the local elite competition.

The organisation’s investment in a $30 million digital hub is set to play a big part in converting these fans into A-League supporters.

“It is the biggest single investment football has made in itself. It’s a $30 million investment into digital infrastructure and data infrastructure that will serve the football fan. It won’t be the home of Australian football; it will be Australia’s home of football,” Danny Townsend, Managing Director at the APL, recently told FNR.

“What it will deliver is content – audio-visual, editorial and everything else you need.

“Part of the reason we are doing that, and investing in what we are calling APL studios, is ensuring that by organising the football community in one place we are able to deliver the utility in their everyday lives and focus on how they choose to consume football. If you do that – they’ll keep coming back.

“You put great content in there, you serve it, and you will continue to understand that fan and all of their preferences.”

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