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Is the viewing future of Australian football an all-encompassing app?

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.

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Vizrt: Graphic specialists for sports broadcast 

Vizrt are reliable providers of graphics and sports analysis technology, perfect for the media industry during their broadcast. 

Vizrt – short for Visualisation in Real-Time – are a Norwegian company who have created resources to enhance the delivery of sport production. They are a worldwide market leader across the areas of real-time 3D graphics, sports analysis and asset management tools to cater for sports media among others. 

Their specialty involves creating visuals to improve the overall feel of broadcast, including interactive & virtual solutions, animations, maps, weather, story and video editing, as well as compositing, multiplatform Video on Demand (VOD) and live playout tools. 

Vizrt’s philosophy is based on creating a new vision for content creation, management and delivery with an end-to-end solution from conception to multi-format distribution. The software and services designed by Vizet, coupled with ongoing innovation, aims to push the boundaries for what is possible and opens up new opportunities to tell stories. 

If we think about how that could be of use in a sporting context, Vizet have already proven themselves as partners for sports broadcasters and clubs, who can give better insights about what happens in a match or what it means, as well as previews and reviews. 

They have all the tools in sports graphics and analysis to provide greater excitement to the coverage of any sport. Audiences are treated to data-driven augmented reality graphics, advanced analysis, automation tools and quick editing of highlights to get them to fans first. 

As part of Vizrt’s sport production, they bring all the features required to get the very best out of the experience, whether that be at home, in the stands or in the locker room.

One of Vizrt’s Extended Reality solutions is XR – regarded as the world’s most powerful 3D sports analysis tool. In collaboration with Eleven Portugal, Vizrt linked up to deliver a new fan experience to Portuguese audiences. 

Eleven Portugal is the Lisbon-based part of multinational group Eleven Sports, who have sports television channels for sporting events. 

In Portugal, Eleven Sports own the rights to UEFA Champions League, La Liga Santander, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 Uber Eats, Jupiler Pro League, English Football League Championship, Scottish Premiership, Formula 1, F2, F3, Formula E, NASCAR, Porsche Super Cup, NFL, WTA 1000, ATP 250, Liga Endesa and more. The channel slogan is ‘By the Fans. For the Fans.’ 

Eleven Sports wanted to find ways of improving their sports coverage, with Vizrt chosen to lead the way with advanced graphics and new innovations. 

Vizrt’s XR Playbook brought a very powerful 3D analysis to TV programs – presenters were able to explain complex play by play match tactics in a clear and audience-friendly way. This adds more drama and suspense in shows and helps get the most from all sports by engaging the audience with unique insights and knowledge of strategy. 

As part of the collaboration, Vizrt committed towards offering training and guidance via their training and services teams. Deployed in Lisbon, they could educate Eleven Portugal’s editorial and production teams about how to get the most out of Vizrt’s software. 

Fans became immersed with tools for tracking player speed and movement, while the broadcaster makes great use of Virtual Stadium  an augmented reality set that gives a bird’s eye view of the venue. 

It’s this use of Vizrt’s multifaceted technology that can bring heightened significance to any sporting event. 

Vizrt has even helped out Esports broadcasters with their own productions, bringing the same high-quality graphics solutions for match previews and team presentations in particular. The rise and popularity of Esports has seen Vizrt transition their expertise to these events. 

Vizrt’s impressive portfolio of clients and partners include the world’s leading broadcasters, featuring CNN, CBS, Fox, BBC, Sky, ITN, ZDF, Star TV, Network 18, TV Today, CCTV, and NHK. Vizrt’s power of work extends further to many world-class production houses and corporate institutions – such as the New York and London Stock Exchanges – who go to Vizrt’s technology. 

Adaptable to any organisation and industry, Vizrt is able to deliver a whole range of benefits. To find out more on other features, you can view them here. 

Player sentiment up, average age down: PFA releases annual report

Sentiment is well and truly up for A-League players, according to the annual Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) report.

This time last year, only 33% of A-League players felt confident about the direction of their football careers.

According to the PFA’s latest annual report, that number is now 56%.

Of the A-League’s 312 players, 200 responded to the 2020/21 A-League survey, capturing 70% of the current cohort, with the results proving that even despite the ongoing turbulence and uncertainty of COVID-19, the majority of players feel much more confident about their futures within the game.

The report highlights that Australian players actively want to remain in the A-League, as opposed to seeking opportunities overseas.

The key numbers that demonstrate this include:

  • 55% of players said they would like to stay playing in the A-League next season, up from 45% last year.
  • 56% of players are confident about the direction of their football careers, compared to 33% in 2019/20.
  • Only 4% of players would move to an overseas league even if it was for similar money and/or playing standard.
  • Only 16% of players who would prefer to move to an overseas league would only do so if the money and standards were better.

Other highlights of the report include that the average A-League player is getting younger.

Over the last 14 years, the average age of the A-League player has consistently trended upwards.

In 2020/21, however, this changed and the average age trended downwards, dropping from 27.6 to 25.1.

The number of players utilised in the A-League who were aged 21 and under came in at 107, representing 35% of the 300 players who received A-League minutes during the 2020/21 season.

The youngest squads on average belonged to Central Coast Mariners and Adelaide United, with average ages of 23.6 and 23.9 years respectively.

Another highlight was the fact that of the league’s 312 contracted players, 300 received A-League minutes.

“These reports have been immensely valuable, helping the PFA and the players better understand the industry in which they are employed, monitor the application of high-performance standards, assess technical progress and survey the players’ experience,” PFA Co-Chief Executive Beau Busch said of the report.

“For the last five years, we have been able to utilise these reports to formulate evidence-based positions to improve the environments in which our members work through collective bargaining.

“Promisingly, after a period of significant uncertainty, the players have indicated that they are more confident in the direction of their careers and the future of the competition than this time last year, signifying a positive shift in the perception of the A-League.”

The report also highlights the fact that A-League attendances were the lowest ever in the competition, thanks in large part to COVID-19, with an average attendance of 5,660.

Foreign players in the league reduced by 12 to a total of 51, whilst the average salary in the A-League is $136,791.

Access the full report HERE.

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