A whole new ball game for A-League

Written By Unknown on Senin, 07 Oktober 2013 | 23.40

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FOOTBALL is coming home. More than the crowds and the standard of play that have been the eternal talking points, it will be the success of the A-league's first free-to-air television deal with SBS that provides the best measure of progress.

This will be the season when those who claimed the A-League's growth had been handicapped by an exclusive pay television deal with Fox Sports is put to the test. And when, as the result of the dual broadcasting arrangement, the league's exposure is multiplied.

From the days when it was known by the heathens as 'Soccer Bloody Soccer', SBS has a long and rich association with Australian football. Les Murray and the late Johnny Warren were the ''world game's'' godfather's - with the dark suits, but without the violin cases.

However, when SBS won the free-to-air rights last season, there was some concern among FFA insiders that the venerable football network sometimes loved the game to death. The consequence of an approach that was seen to cater heavily for purists, rather than the new audience the A-league is trying to attract.

The perception was – rightly or wrongly – that if you didn't know your libido from your libero, SBS wasn't going to waste its time giving you directions from the bedroom to the pitch.

At the same time, Fox Sports had set the bar high in recent years. Its analysts and commentators provided depth, insight but also – cue Mark Bosnich's manic cackle – a lighter, more inclusive touch.

SBS's response is a coverage that leans heavily on younger, recently retired players. David Zdrilic will host the Friday night coverage with the entertainingly intense Craig Foster. They will be joined by a rotating panel of experts including Jason Culina, Clint Bolton and Ned Zelic.

The game itself is a joint production between Fox Sports and SBS, with David Basheer commentating and Robbie Slater providing analysis. Expect Slater to say ''Well, Simon...ummm, I mean David'' at least 13 times until the new alliance is forged.


But, beyond the games themselves, what the FFA wanted – and has gotten – is broader programming across the week. The type of coverage that showcases the players, engages fans and tempts them to buy a ticket.

Fox Sports have made the signing of the A-League season, poaching entertainers Santo Cilauro, Sam Pang and Ed Kavalee whose World Cup program on SBS was a cult classic. They will reform for 'Santo, Sam and Ed's Total Football' on Monday night which, if there previous efforts are anything to go, will be instant classics.

SBS will have their of footbotainment show, 'Thursday FC' hosted by comedian Matt Okine, Lucy Zelic (yes, Ned Zelic is her brother) and David Zdrilic. They will be using a host of current players as both comic muses, and sources of insight.

Which proves, in Australian sport, the only thing worse than being laughed at is not being laughed at. And also that the FFA was right when it predicted splitting the broadcast rights would create competition and produce broader and enhanced coverage.

What it cannot determine is if the appetite for A-League games, and other programming, is a strong as last year's encouraging season suggested. Do packed crowds at Wanderers and Melbourne Victory games translate into ratings that will encourage growth in future rights deals?


For all the talk of strong growth, the average audience for games on Fox Sports last season was 81,000 viewers. Strong in pay-per-view terms, but not figures to have the eyes of free-to-air executives popping.

However, the grand final between Central Coast and the Wanderers drew an A-league record 308,000 viewers and 164,000 watched Alessandro Del Piero's first home game for Sydney FC against Newcastle.

That is the league's potential. The televisual banquet has been laid. Now we wait to see if more viewers come to the table.

THURSDAY FC, 8.30pm, SBS 2
SBS's panel show showcases the A-League with special guests, interviews and live music acts, presented by Matt Okine, Lucy Zelic and David Zdrilic.
KICK OFF 6.30pm Fox Sports
Tara Rushton and Andy Harper's weekly preview of the upcoming round and football news from the Premier League.
A-LEAGUE LIVE, 7pm, SBS2 & Fox Sports
SBS and Fox Sports's live coverage of the Friday night match.
Mark Bosnich, Mark Rudan and Adam Peacock bring football fans up to 10 hours of LIVE coverage of the A-League and English Premier League each Saturday.
Wrap up the A-League action Mark
Bosnich and Adam Peacock and don't miss the B-League with Sam Mac and Julian Schiller, the best thing to happen to TV sport since Kerry Packer and World Series Cricket.
TOTAL FOOTBALL 7.30pm Fox Sports
A new panel show hosted by Santo Cilauro, alongside Ed Kavalee and Sam Pang.
Recap all the best moments from the weekend.

The A-League kick-off is just days away. Picture: Gregg Porteous

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