The A League season starts in a little under 40 minutes as I type this. I’m sat, looking at the section of the Fanpass Schedule which says SKY TBC from 21:45 – 00:00. I assume that this will be the Brisbane v Melbourne curtain opener for the season, but that’s based on almost no evidence whatsoever.
Sky announced they were showing the A League this season 27 hours ago. That means there’s been no promotion and no adverts for the league which hosts New Zealand’s only professional team. Repeated requests for info on the A League were met with the response that Sky Sports were still in negotiation for the broadcast deal.
The thing is, Sky don’t care about football. It doesn’t draw large audiences, which means it gets treated like it doesn’t draw large audiences, which means it won’t ever get the chance to draw large audiences. Thats why NZ Football is paying them to screen the Stirling Sports Premiership. But they treat rights they do have like they’re an inconvenience as well.
Take Euro 2016 and the Copa America, for example. World class players in knockout football – the Euros being played mostly in the early hours of the morning. All of it got shunted off to a pop-up channel.
That’s pretty crucial. Not featuring on SS1, SS2, SS3 or SS4 means that for the casual viewer, using FanPass, you can’t watch those games. So Sky can say there’s no audience for football, but when there’s a chance to gauge that – yeah nah, let’s put repeats of motor racing on.
The last minute deal is also bad for the Wellington Phoenix. We’re not even twelve months on from the #SaveTheNix campaign and the introduction of #METRICS as a key component of the future of the club. With the only broadcaster with the $ to afford the show the Phoenix waiting until almost the last minute to seal the rights, that means there’s been no build up to their first home game – even the programme guide says ‘SKY SPORTS’ in the slots where the Phoenix v Melbourne City game should be played – and the Sydney Derby which follows it.
In a way, it’s not Sky’s fault. They’re a business, and getting a good deal is what the need to do. The FFA’s pricing of the rights means they’re the only bidder. With BeIN Sports swiping an awful lot of the football coverage which does draw a crowd and making that an extra subscription channel, it seems Sky are happy with the idea that BeIN hosts football while they collect their Sky subscription money.
It’s good business, but it’s bad for promoting the game and building an audience. Unlike Europe, where TV money now owns the game, in New Zealand the game needs the airtime and the promoting to continue to grow and expand. If people don’t know the Phoenix are on, if they can’t see an advert on Sky Sports or find it in the TV Guide, then that’s at least part of the reason why those who work for Sky can say ‘Well it rates badly’. But then again, as long as they get the best deal, it’s not their problem.
I’m reminded of the Canadian card sharp Canada Bill, who upon being told the card game he was playing in was obviously crooked, replied ‘Sure, but it’s the only game in town’. Sky are the only game in town though, so I guess we have to lump it – whether or not they squander opportunities to grow their audience simply because they think it isn’t worth it.
Sky Sports’ involvement in the Kingz was instrumental in their decline and fall. If they managed to have the same effect on the Nix by deliberately being hands off, when they definitely could do more – well, that’s just taking the piss, aye?
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.