I woke up at six-thirty on Saturday morning. Football was on the TV. Free-to-air. FTA live sport in New Zealand is so rare that, other than Maori Television’s coverage of the Fox Memorial Shield, you don’t often get to sit down and watch a full game without having to put your hand in your pocket. With BeIN sports covering the English Premier League, La Liga, Champions League, Europa League and the farcical EFL Cup, Sky covering the A League and the NZFC, it was down to TVNZ to pick up the rights to the Bundesliga.
So, half six. Saturday morning. Bayern Munich vs Werder Bremen, live from the Allianz Arena. It was a massacre, to be honest with you. Bayern established a 2 – 0 lead within thirteen minutes and cruised through the rest of the game. Their dominance in the German league means this year they’re attempting their fifth title in a row. It’s a level of dominance that might make watching the game seem uninteresting, a feeling familiar to anyone watching the All Blacks play in the last eight years or so.
I got to the end of the second paragraph without mentioning rugby union. That’s pretty good for New Zealand. It’s certainly interesting that a country which considers the code both its #1 sport and central to national identity doesn’t have any live games screening free to air. In fact union and football get similar treatment on FTA, reduced to highlights packages on the news. At least, I suppose, the Warriors get delayed games and highlights on Maori Television and Super Rugby and All Blacks games on delay via Sky’s FTA Prime channel.
But in the age of social media the practice of avoiding the result, like Bob and Terry tried to, has become even more difficult. Twitter and facebook light up with the results, NZ’s major news sites feature liveblogs and pop up notifications about the score. The best way to avoid the result is to turn off the TV, radio, laptop and your phone – set an alarm clock – and then either find a very interesting book or take an extended nap.
Social media does give football an opportunity in New Zealand. The Sky screening of two NZFC games a week were often shunted off to a pop-up channel, meaning FanPass subscribers couldn’t access it. Not so the NZ Football Weekly show. But the majority of the highlights and features from the show are available here and here, on YouTube. There’s over three hours of match footage available, covering all eight of the franchises. That’s not including the player features.
Clubs are becoming increasingly aware of the potential of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Papatoetoe in the NRFL Div 2 feature match highlights on their twitter account, Waiheke United’s YouTube videos have seen them feature on ESPN Argentina. Obviously Auckland City have led the way with ACFC TV featuring all of their home games Pre-Sky coverage and their play-by-play updates on Twitter setting the standard for others to follow
This year’s winter season has also seen the Lotto NRFL website revamp itself, meaning less time fiddling around on the FoxSportPulse or Federation websites for fixtures or league tables. Their twitter account @LottoNRFL also retweets various match updates from around the league, meaning those on the sidelines at Centre Park Mangere or Fred Taylor Park can keep an eye on the scores – essential as the season reaches squeaky bum time. There’s also the assorted Yellow Fever linked crew, valiantly attending Chatham Cup games in wind-swept Wellington and reporting back for the benefit of those online.
That’s not to dismiss hard-working journalists including Nelson Mail’s Phillip Rollo, Waikato Times’ Andrew Voerman and the Herald’s resident Stadtler and Waldorf in Steven Holloway and (former ITBOTN writer) Niall Anderson with their excellent ASB Premiership Funbag. Last season saw an increase in the number of NZFC articles on the Herald. We’re not quite at ‘Ryan De Vries sneezes, what does this mean for Auckland City?’, like rugby, but one article a week over a 27 week season is a pretty good return.
The latest Nielsen sport poll saw football as the only team sport that grew in popularity in New Zealand between 2010 and 2015, upticking to 20% to put it just behind Rugby League (21%) but still way off Rugby Union (34%). The game is growing, for a whole number of reasons. The Phoenix’s ten stretch in the A League, the changing demographic and sporting cultures of Auckland – even the fact that we’re just a place to sell Barca, Madrid, City and United shirts for the European clubs – all of it marginally expands the culture of the game in New Zealand.
When reviewing Ben Sigmund’s biography this week, I noted that football in New Zealand has come a long way from where it was when Siggy first represented his country. It’s not been an easy ride, but it seems the game’s reached a point where it doesn’t have to fight as hard for coverage – both through the mainstream media coverage and the advent of social media. That means it can expend more of its energy into expanding, into raising its profile
So another season of televised NZFC, another season of the clubs sharing the footage and highlights, another season of the Funbag and even #WhyILoveTheASBP. Another season of the Nix in the A League, a season which includes the All Whites playing HOME INTERNATIONALS for the first time in over two years. All of it adds up to a fair few exciting spring and summer weekends for the beautiful game in New Zealand. Even if it does start at half six in the morning sometimes.