The worst keep secret in broadcasting is the slow and inevitable decline of Foxtel. With money being lost hand over foot and parent body News Corp bankrolling the media giant to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, the changing manner in which people consume entertainment appears to have Foxtel’s days numbered.
In the first quarter of the 2019/20 financial year, Foxtel cited a A$306 million loss and the sporting arm of the business, Fox Sports, was the first to feel the weight of budget cuts and restructuring. So called ‘non-marquee’ content was cut or put on hold, staff were shred and the future of football and rugby union on the cable network beyond their current broadcast deals was thrown into serious question.
Bookies will be offering short odds that Australian football will have a new broadcasting home in the near future, despite the potential for FFA, the A and W-Leagues and Foxtel to be able to extend their relationship should the deal be mutually satisfying.
High hopes were held for Optus Sport’s foray into football when it acquired the Premier League rights in 2015 from Foxtel for a princely sum of A$200 million. With a World Cup taking place in Russia during the Australian winter of 2018, Optus stood to impress all and sundry with their state of the art coverage and well functioning app.
Sadly, it was an unmitigated disaster that led to SBS saving the day at the eleventh hour, after thousands of Australian customers went to bed bitterly disappointed in the early days of the tournament. Thankfully, things have improved markedly, Optus have extended their Premier League deal until the completion of the 2021/22 season and recently expanded their coverage into the Asian market by adding the J-League to their platform.
It appears to be the future of media consumption with consumers able to streamline their experience by using only the apps that appeal to them. No longer is there a need to purchase an expensive and cumbersome all-encompassing cable television package that provides some desired content and a vast amount in which the customer has very little interest.
Generally, Australian consumers appear pleased with the simplicity and reliability of the Optus service. Recently, CEO of Football Victoria Peter Filopoulos announced that the governing body were in talks with Optus and Kayo Sports in regards to a potential arrangement that would see expanded streaming of Victorian NPL matches.
Both Facebook and Youtube have recorded impressive figures over the past twelve months whilst streaming NPL content. Early figures from NPL rounds in Victoria appear to indicate a continued interest and there was much online interaction during the first round of New South Wales’ NPL season across the weekend just passed.
With the demise of Foxtel’s subscription service imminent and their Kayo brand appearing to be the way of the future, Australian football would do well to think long and hard about where to hitch it’s wagon in the short to medium term. With car manufacturer Hyundai’s role in the future of the domestic game and a restructuring of their current A$6 million per annum deal with the A-League likely when it expires this June, it is a nervous time for the domestic game.
Without a host broadcaster and major sponsor for the elite competition, things could turn very grim, very quickly. However, with near two million Australians using the Optus service to engage with Premier League content and thousands of Australians using Kayo, Foxtel and Facebook to satisfy their thirst for the beautiful game, the answer might be staring the powers at be right in the face.
A dedicated Australian football app that covers A-League, W-League and NPL play across the country should be a number one priority for the game moving forward. For a flat monthly subscription fee, fans of the Australian game would have access to every match and for the first time in Australia’s history, the entire population would be exposed to the country’s top tier and not the minority of Australian’s who hold Foxtel subscriptions.
Whether FFA, the A-League owners and sponsors could go it alone and finance such a project is unknown. Perhaps Optus or Kayo would be interested in filling some sort of parent role in the deal; taking a small wedge of the pie created by subscriptions.
Either way, the future of Australian football appears likely to look like the service currently offered by Optus Sport. The time is nigh to strike and concede defeat when it comes to subscription services being able to promote the A-League. By moving now, the increasing popularity of the NPL across the nation will also be dragged along for the ride.
There is still a place in the Australian football market for free-to-air content and after weak recent attempts, it might be time for a return to the spiritual home of SBS; if recent budget cuts allow it to happen.
Football in Australia looks a little ‘Brave New World’ right now. Let’s leave the dinosaurs behind and take the leap of faith required. It will be the best thing for the game in the long term.