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Blue Sky Thinking

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In the mid-1980’s, Rupert Murdoch’s various media organs had it in for football. Even before 1989’s ‘The Truth’ headline and the all of the rancour that followed, the beautiful game was viewed as a ‘slum sport, played in slum stadiums and increasingly watched by slum people’.

That all changed when he realised there was an awful lot of money to be made from it. The Sky TV deal placed live football behind a paywall, relying on the desire of supporters to see their team to justify purchasing a package which included QVC and other early-satellite monstrosities.

It worked though and the ‘TV Deal’ is now a part of promotion and relegation to the Premier League. Supporters of Aston Villa were primarily concerned with going down ‘the year the new TV deal comes in’, while ‘boro, Burnley and Hull supporters were jubilant that the lucre would be filthy and bountiful in their upcoming top flight seasons.

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The relentless hype, shifting kickoffs to suit the TV, the infliction of Martin Tyler and Alan Parry, Tim bloody Lovejoy. Sky’s attempt to squeeze every last $ out of their product has rightly brought them criticism from supporters. Against modern football, with Sky being the emblem of that modern game.

The thing is, for all of my love of damp feet standing pitchside in Northern League games, for all of the Auckland City games I missed because Sky’s coverage of the NZFC pushed the fixture to 7:30pm on a Thursday, for all of that I still want to give Sky some of my money. But I can’t.

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There are three confederation tournaments going on right now. The OFC Nations Cup, Euro 2016 and the Copa America. Sky have got the rights for all three of them, at no little expense. They’ve also got their excellent FanPass service, a step into the world of streamed content at a time when rival services are undercutting their business model.

None of the three tournaments are available on FanPass. A few of the Euro 2016 games are on Sky’s Freeview channel, Prime. There’ll be a ‘Highlights From…’ show each day. None of the Copa America will be, nor will the OFC Nations cup. Instead, all of the football is on Sky’s Pop-Up channels.

Football isn’t one of New Zealand’s big three of sports. Union, League and Cricket take those spots. But with four channels already, the shunting of the All Whites playing tournament football as part of World Cup qualification seems bizarre. Equally odd is paying for two tournaments featuring the world’s top two players in Messi and Ronaldo (you put them in order) and then not trying to maximise your return on that investment.

The treatment of football by Sky and other broadcasters is often said to reflect the audience within the country for the game itself. But conversely, if you don’t give people the opportunity to watch the game if they want to, you’re never going to build that audience.

Murdoch recognised the potential moneymaker in football over twenty-five years ago, and perhaps it’s time that Sky Sports NZ recognised it too. I’ve got my $ ready for when they do.

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John Palethorpe

John Palethorpe lives in South Auckland which is very far away from Fratton Park and Champion Hill. Having been told there was no football in New Zealand, he was delighted to find that there is.

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