Has football become too expensive to stream in Australia?

As the European Championships come to an end this Monday morning (AEST), with the English playing the Italians, club football from around the world will soon be back on the agenda for football fans across Australia.

This forthcoming season, however, Australian audiences will find their favourite football content in different locations.

New streaming services have entered the market and existing ones have stepped up their appetite for football broadcasting rights, giving the consumer more choices, but potentially a bigger hit to their wallets.

For example, whilst the EPL will remain on Optus Sport for next season at $14.99 a month, the telco has lost the rights to show the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and other UEFA associated club tournaments to relatively new streaming service Stan Sport.

Stan acting CEO, Martin Kugeler, said at the announcement of the three-year-deal: “Since Stan Sport launched in February, we have been delighted with the way Australians have taken up the service.

“The addition of the UEFA Club Competitions, including the UEFA Champions League, represents a unique strategic opportunity that will continue the momentum for Stan Sport and aligns directly with the Nine group sports strategy.

“Featuring the most outstanding players in the sport, the UEFA Club Competitions bring together the best clubs for more than 400 matches of world-class football.

“We can’t wait to showcase the most prestigious club football tournaments in the world and we thank UEFA for its trust in Stan to deliver their iconic football products to Australia.”

Stan Sport costs customers a minimum of $20 a month, meaning Australian football fans must now pay $35 a month to watch the Champions League and EPL across the two services, a jump of $20 a month on previous rates.

Alongside this, the A-League, W-League, FFA Cup, Socceroos and Matildas matches will not be shown on Foxtel’s Kayo Sports service, with those rights migrating to Network 10 and Paramount + in August, a brand-new streaming platform which will cost fans $8.99 a month.

Beverley McGarvey, Chief Content Officer and Executive Vice President at ViacomCBS Australia and New Zealand, said at the time of the agreement with FA: “Today marks a new era for Australian football. This landmark agreement gives all Australians access to more football than ever before.

“We are thrilled to partner with Football Australia and are proud to provide National Teams football and the FFA Cup unprecedented reach and exposure across our many platforms including on Network 10 and our new streaming service Paramount+.

“We will be showcasing all Socceroos, Westfield Matildas and FFA Cup matches, which not only complements our recently announced rights deal to broadcast every A-League and Westfield W-League match but reinforces our commitment to football in this country.”

Kayo Sports still has the rights to a suite of BEIN Sports content which includes the Serie A, Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1 and Scottish Championship, for which they charge $25 a month (although you can subscribe to BEIN directly for $20 a month).

Throw in Sports Flick for $14.99 a month, which showcases some of our local stars in leagues such as the K-League and Chinese Super League, being a football fan in Australia is becoming more and more of an expensive proposition.

The fragmentation of the football rights in Australia means if you want to subscribe to watch all of the football content on these streaming services, it will cost you a minimum of around $80 a month.

Of course, there are bundled deals with broadband connections which may cheapen the price of some these services, but that depends on an individual’s setup.

With millions of Australians also already signing up to entertainment services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon, many will find it hard to justify the price of all of these platforms for the world game – as limits will be reached.

Therefore, certain leagues and football content are likely to be prioritised by certain consumers, which may leave some services behind in the competitive marketplace.

Hypothetically, Paramount + could be a first-choice priority for many football fans, as it is cheaper than the other services, offers more than just sport on their platform and is the only place to watch all of the A-League, W-League and national teams.

But other fans can’t go without the EPL on a weekly basis, so Optus Sport will be their default service.

What do you think? Has football, overall, become too expensive to watch in Australia?

Get in touch with us via our social channels and let us know which services you will be keeping, signing up for, or dropping in the coming weeks.

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.

Will Melbourne City eventually move all of their games to the south east?

Melbourne City were the benchmark in the A-League last season, lifting the Premiers Plate in May and eventually the Championship in late June.

It was their first taste of A-League success after years of hard work on and off the pitch.

The club has invested heavily since City Football Group (CFG) took over the Melbourne Heart in 2014, initially building a $15 million City Football Academy in Bundoora, in the city’s north, which has housed the club for the past few years.

In what seems like a strategic investment however, the club revealed late last year that they will move from their Bundoora headquarters and relocate to Casey Fields in Melbourne’s south east.

Earlier this month, the club announced construction had begun on the new elite City Football Academy facility within the 84-hectare Casey Fields Sporting Precinct.

“The first stage of construction includes the central elite training pitch, with its 115m x 115m hybrid grass surface, and is due for completion by the end of 2021. The new pitch is adjacent to the site’s existing four full-sized pitches – one grass and three synthetic – which will be primarily used by the Club’s Academy teams and for City in the Community programs, as well as for City of Casey school and club programs.

“The next stage of construction will see the development of Melbourne City’s new two-storey administration and high-performance building at Casey Fields, currently in detailed design phase. Construction on that phase of the facility is due to commence in the coming months, with completion estimated for mid-2022,” a Melbourne City FC statement read.

Stage three of construction will look to implement a 4000-capacity mini stadium in a significant space in the precinct.

With the club’s A-League players to officially begin training in the facility in August, recent developments in regards to the possibility of a 15,000-capacity stadium in Dandenong may see the end of the team playing all of their games at AAMI Park, in the years to come.

The Victorian Government has already pledged $100,000 in funding for a feasibility review and development of a business case to build the 15,000-seat boutique stadium, with the City of Greater Dandenong also set to match that contribution.

According to Cranbourne Star News, The Greater Dandenong Council is lobbying for $110 million to build the stadium, which will also host festivals, concerts, rugby matches, alongside hosting future Melbourne City games.

While of course at this stage there is no guarantee the stadium will be built, Melbourne City head honchos may have to grapple with the idea of permanently leaving AAMI Park behind, the stadium they have hosted games at since their inception.

With Victory ditching their deal with Marvel Stadium to move all their games back to AAMI Park next season and Western United set to play the majority of their games at AAMI for at least the next two seasons, the 30,000-capacity rectangular stadium is not short of regular football content.

If the proposed stadium does get the go-ahead, City may look to move all of their home matches to Dandenong, and alongside their new academy location, this can prove to be beneficial in establishing a clear geographic identity.

They will have a stronger presence in the local areas and will have the chance to better connect with the local football community and grow their membership base.

City should also still have a reasonable chunk of members who live in the south and south eastern suburbs of Melbourne, with a report from 2018 stating 28% of their members came from those areas.

Adversely, a move away from AAMI Park has the possibility to alienate members and fans who may not want to travel to the proposed stadium for reasons such as proximity.

Sharing the home games between the stadiums could be a viable option, but also brings on the challenge of not having a singular home ground, as well as match scheduling conflicts.

A big call from City administrators may need to be made in the end and not all members and fans will be pleased.

Knights Stadium: More than just a home ground

Knights Stadium is one of the most iconic venues in Australian football – for many it is more than just a stadium.

The ground was built in 1989 with storied history. Melbourne Knights, formerly known as Melbourne Croatia SC, were two-time National Soccer League (NSL) champions and four-time minor premiers at the ground during the 1990s.

The Mark Viduka Stand can seat up to 3,000 people, while another 12,000 can stand around the pitch. The ground represents the largest football-only sporting ground in the state of Victoria – testament to the history and strength of Melbourne Knights FC.

Knights Stadium in 2002 with the Mark Viduka Stand.

Former Melbourne Knights president Andelko Cimera says he was part of the club while Knights Stadium was becoming a reality.

“We were playing at the old number two pitch at Olympic Park, where the dog track was, and that was virtually our home. We were looking for alternatives and a couple of properties came up – a drive-in in Altona and a drive-in at North Sunshine,” he said.

“We settled on Sunshine because it was a little bit cheaper. I think we paid $180,000 at that time in 1984. 12 months later we started developing the stadium.”

Melbourne Croatia at the time tried to secure the rights to play at Heidelberg United’s home ground Olympic Park and several other venues, before a decade-long donation drive allowed them to raise the money to purchase the land and develop a facility at the current site of Somers Street.

94/95 NSL champions

Melbourne Knights FC President Pave Jusup says that much of his childhood was spent at Knights Stadium.

“We only saw the stadium for games. We would always strive to go there, and sometimes the juniors would have an important game that’d let us on the second ground, even the main ground,” he said.

“If you walked into the wrong part of the ground the groundskeeper would grab you and make you be a ball boy, and you’d get a hotdog and drink after the game. It was a whole childhood for a lot of us.”

Jusup adds that Melbourne Knights and the stadium serve as a key pillar within the Croatian community.

“There are a lot of memories that have been created there. A lot of people are tied to the physical place and it is a hub of the Croatian community along with the Croatian club in Footscray and the original Croatian church in Clifton Hill. We are the three constant and long-term fixtures in the community,” he said.

Cimera explains that there were both positives and negatives towards the stadium being community ran and operated.

“There were advantages and disadvantages. It was our property, it was our ground. It was up to us whether it was Sunday night, Saturday afternoon, or Friday night game. It was always available to us,” he said.

“The disadvantages were that everything was up to us. The maintenance of the ground was up to us. The facility became a burden to the Croatian community, which involved all our payments, all our rates which were paid for by the community.”

Both Jusup and Cimera agree that the biggest games were always against South Melbourne.

“It became a fortress for us in the 90s. It was difficult to take points away from our ground for teams,” Cimera said.

“I think our record crowd was when Hadjuk Split was here, that was close to 15,000. I remember when we played South Melbourne we had 12,000 people. The games between South Melbourne and us were always the biggest crowds.”

During the 2000 National Soccer League season, over 11,000 people descended upon Knights Stadium to watch Melbourne Croatia vs South Melbourne Hellas.

“Around 2001, they were top of the table and unbeaten, while we were mid to low-end of the table. We beat them 4-0. That is one game that sticks out in my mind,” Jusup said.

For both Cimera and Jusup, they acknowledge that the supporters and members of Melbourne Knights want to see Knights Stadium and the club feature in a second division.

“It’s not only the Melbourne Knights. It’s the juniors too because they can have a career path. Right now they can’t see a career path. Without promotion and relegation, it makes it very difficult,” Cimera said.

“We’ve got a lot of latent fans who are disappointed in the situation we find ourselves in. There are a lot of people who would put their hands up and into their pockets to help propel the club if given the opportunity. We’ve gone through a period of consolidation, but there’s a new generation of people who want to propel the club into the limelight as their parents and grandparents did,” Jusup said.

If the opportunity to join a second division does arise for Melbourne Knights, then their home ground won’t look out of place on the national stage.

Why A-League teams need purpose-built stadiums

The aim for every football club within Australia should be to play on a ground that is both made for football and of a suitable size – and for some, eventually own them. While this is already starting to happen, there are still A-League teams that are playing in stadiums far too big for their supporter base. Fortunately, we are seeing less huge oval stadiums like Adelaide Oval and Marvel Stadium being used by clubs. However, there is still some way to go until every A-League team has a suitable home.

Hindmarsh Stadium

One of the best stadiums in the country to watch football is Adelaide’s Hindmarsh Stadium. It is the perfect size for a club like Adelaide United, and the atmosphere during big games when it’s packed out is second to none. The only addition needed is a roof covering more than just the Eastern grandstand.

Currently, AAMI Park is the premier football stadium in Australia. This is because it is a great size for Melbourne Victory (especially with bumper crowds), and it was designed with football in mind. For the other Victorian teams, it is simply too large for their home games scheduled at AAMI Park next season – Western United and Melbourne City.

Artwork for Western United’s stadium in Tarneit

With talks of a 15,000 boutique stadium being built in Dandenong to host Melbourne City games, it could be a game-changer for the club. The atmosphere at these matches would be greatly lifted, which would help them win new fervent supporters.

If Western United manages to get their stadium built, it will instantly make them the most important club in the A-League. Owning their own stadium was the entire cornerstone of their bid and while the delays to putting shovels in the ground are worrying, if they can fulfil their promise they will become the first A-League team to have complete control over their infrastructure. With at least two more seasons playing games at AAMI Park, Western United have to work hard to win supporters over without a geographical distinction from the other Melbourne-based teams.

Another club with a great stadium is the Central Coast Mariners. If their bid to take over the administration and running of Gosford Stadium is successful, then it will help ensure the viability and sustainability of the club. While it is on the larger side for the Mariners’ supporter base, it is one of the most scenic stadiums in the world, with its iconic palm trees and ocean view.

The picturesque view at Central Coast Stadium

Their F3 rivals Newcastle Jets find themselves in a similar situation, with a great rectangular stadium to call home. If the clubs were successful like in the early years of the A-League, their stadiums would be a lot less empty and the atmosphere would shine through.

The difference between seeing 10,000 people at the Sydney Football Stadium, compared to seeing the same size crowd at Kogarah oval is night and day. If Kogarah was better positioned within Sydney FC’s catchment area and had a roof and a rectangular setup, it would be perfect. While the upgraded SFS is in the works, they have found a good temporary home that is suitably sized. Western Sydney Wanderers wouldn’t be the club they are today without Parramatta Stadium, which truly feels like hallowed turf for the club now.

While Brisbane Roar’s move to Dolphin stadium takes them outside the city, the difference in atmosphere when compared to the cavernous 55,000-seat Suncorp Stadium makes it well worth it. If Brisbane had a stadium in the city that’s similar size to Perth Glory’s it would take them to the next level. Instead, they travel outside of Brisbane for a stadium that’s better suited to their needs.

Westpac Stadium is too large and poorly suited for Wellington Phoenix

Wellington Phoenix would be much better served in a rectangular stadium about half the size of the cake tin. Surprisingly, there is no suitable venue despite New Zealand’s love of rugby, and at 34,000 capacity it is far bigger than needed for a club of Wellington’s size.

While the A-League is finding more suitable grounds to host their games, the next step is owning infrastructure. While for many this is a pipe-dream, it is how so many clubs around the world have become institutions that have lasted for decades. It ensures financial stability and it has to be the aim for the clubs going forward. To achieve this, football needs to collectively lobby government to supply the money for stadiums A-League teams desperately need.

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