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Why Football Will Never (properly) Take Off in Australia

Football On TVTime for my first rant of the year!

Football has come a long way in Australia. Not just Australia, but in other western countries where the game has not been traditionally popular (think USA, Canada, New Zealand, etc.), its popularity both in participation and attendance has largely been on the increase in the past couple of decades.

However, as much as it pains me to say it, football will never properly take off in Australia, or really in any westernised country where it isn't already entrenched. In my opinion there's one very simple and very significant reason why it won't: advertising.

Especially as a televised sport, football is horrendous for advertisers. There are two 45 minute halves in the game, and in a proper broadcast of a game, there is not one ad break in each of those 45 minute periods. I can't think of another sports broadcast, or any free-to-air televised broadcast of anything, where there isn't an ad break for over 45 minutes.

Rugby league has ads every stoppage; cricket has ads every over, every wicket, etc.; AFL has ads every goal, every quarter, and nearly every stoppage; etc.

'So what?' I hear you ask? Well, it pretty much means that any free-to-air commercial television station anywhere, knows it can't get any good value out of broadcasting football unless the game is already extremely popular.

My memory always recalls Channel 7 one year having the rights for the Australian football World Cup qualification matches, and for the match that I watched they ridiculously inserted ad breaks when the ball went out for  some of the goal-kicks. Of course nearly every football fan was viscerally offended by such a stupid move; by the time the coverage resumed from the ad break the game was already well underway.

Needless to say, that was the last time that Channel 7, or any other free-to-air television station (excluding SBS), broadcasted live football here in Australia.

The big problem is that because of this situation, any decent coverage of football is limited to the pay-TV networks (or in Australia, the one and only pay-TV network). As a result, there is no opportunity for the general public to have football thrust onto the 'public' airwaves for them to watch and get into, and thus the viewership is largely restricted to those that can: (a) pay for a sports TV subscription, and (b) have the impetus to watch it over any other content that's on the multitude of pay-TV channels.

So we're in a situation where, since the inception of the A-League, there has been no regular live Australian football games televised on free-to-air TV at all in the past 5 years, and the only live football that has been televised has been the meagre offerings that SBS can get, largely only because of the anti-siphoning laws which prevent those games from being pay-TV exclusives.

The end game of all this is that football in Australia cannot raise continuous effective revenue through either broadcast rights or its own advertising because it is hamstrung by the situation of the free-to-air networks not really wanting to touch it, and the fact that there is only one pay-TV operator in town who easily beats out the next interested bidder, which is the relatively poor and largely Government funded SBS.

Money equals quality, growth, attention, popularity, and attendance, but without competitive TV broadcast rights and general advertising, then there's only so much you can do. Foxtel has been a good supporter of the A-League, but there's only so much exposure you can generate from less than a third of every household having access to it.

It's not all gloom though: from next season, SBS will have at least one A-League game each week to broadcast live, which is a start. However in my opinion, as long as the situation exists of football's live broadcasts being mostly restricted to pay-TV with SBS only getting the scraps, then I don't see the sport in Australia growing much beyond being an also-ran sport as it is now.

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