Time to modernize leagues TV coverage

Article by Kieran Burke - @KieranBTS

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On Sunday, RTE broadcast the domestic games show piece day with the Women’s National League and men’s FAI Cup finals both coming to a head at the Aviva Stadium in front of 30,000 spectators. To have the national broadcaster delivering domestic football coverage for over six-hours is priceless in terms of attracting new fans, or at the very least a newly found interest in League of Ireland football, but as we all know occasions like this are most certainly a rarity.

While the FAI’s TV deal with RTE & Eir Sport has seen live League of Ireland matches become a more regular occurrence over the past four years, it could be argued that this increased national coverage has had little to no effect on the league and its members. In fact, many clubs, including Shamrock Rovers and Longford Town, have voiced their disapproval with live broadcasts from inside their grounds on the basis it is actively costing the host clubs money. With no financial reward for clubs selected for live TV coverage, despite the fact the arrival of the lights and cameras clearly detracts from gate receipts and income on the night, perhaps now that this four-year deal has come to an end it’s time for the leagues twenty clubs to look outside the box.

Under the terms of the now expired deal, clubs were restricted in terms of publishing their own video highlights as they had to wait for the airing of RTE’s Soccer Republic programme on a Monday night. This meant, if a club captured an incredible goal of the season contender on a Friday night they would have to wait until Monday night or Tuesday morning to upload it. If ninety-minutes is a long time in football try three to four days and you can soon see how the impact of such a video package can quickly lose its appeal to a constantly distracted audience, who have multiples of other sporting and social options available at the click of a button. If the League of Ireland is to ever capture the imagination of the sporting public it must launch itself onto the modern day technological stage.

One alternative that would not only allow allow clubs freedom in terms of their social media activity but also the potential for much needed fresh income is the option to stream matches on the internet. Clubs in the First Division and FAI Cup have tested the waters on this slightly by broadcasting some of their matches on Facebook live and the uptake in terms of viewers and social media interactions was impressive. Now imagine a situation where clubs could stream their league games live behind a paywall facility, meaning fans both at home and abroad could either purchase season passes or one-off games while the club itself would have the freedom to upload engaging video content and attract sponsors in turn.

Of course, even in this age of internet steaming the best option for reaching the widest possible audience is through television coverage and clubs should still look to work with the countries main broadcasters. However, the traditional broadcast deal is simply outdated and flawed and clubs must stand firm and fight for better terms. For example, traditionally games have been shown on a Friday night, a time slot when most followers of the domestic game are already on route to their own teams matches. Could a package of one game a week on a new Thursday night football slot be agreed upon?

These are the sort of questions that should at least be asked when the FAI sit down to renegotiate with TV broadcasters. Sadly, domestic football rights have often been thrown in as a cheap freebie to simply appease bemoaning League of Ireland folk and under the current regime you have to feel little may change in that regard in the immediate future.


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