Longford supporters raise concerns regarding cost of TV coverage
By Kieran Burke - @KieranBTS.
While many social media outlets have incorrectly reported the recent comments made by the Longford Town FC Supporters Club as been an official club statement, the issues raised in this week's supporters club notes deserve urgent examination from the powers that be. While the Midland outfits supporters are far from the first group to raise grievances with the financial implications of hosting a live TV match at their home ground, the coverage their comments have received across online platforms could be seen as potential embarrassment for the FAI.
For those of you perhaps unfamiliar with the lay of the land in terms of how TV coverage works in the League of Ireland, unlike clubs in England or Scotland for example, who receive billions of pounds in TV rights, Irish clubs do not earn a single cent from the so-called privilege of been selected for live coverage. If that wasn’t already insulting enough, TV companies (particularly RTE) often insist on an earlier kick-off time than the home club would normally play at meaning many supporters find it difficult to get to the match. Even more inconvenient for supporters is the example we have in Longford’s case this weekend with their usual Saturday night match moved forward to Friday night to accommodate the broadcaster (RTE). Given the travel involved for Cork City supporters, the away gate is expected to be greatly reduced as followers of the “Rebel Army” opt to stay in work for the full day and watch the match at home or in their local. And of course, while the added national and even global exposure for a semi-professional side like Longford is sure to delight the club's sponsors and even the players themselves, who may see the opportunity to showcase their skills on the box as something of a shop window moment, the fact there is no financial compensation on offer to a part-time club like Longford in particular is unbelievably short-sighted by the governing body.
When you have a club the size of Shamrock Rovers with all of its might and financial resources releasing statements demanding that their club is no longer selected for live TV coverage as happened this time three years ago, clearly there is a problem with the system and yet three years on absolutely nothing has changed. In that “Hoops” letter to RTE, the Tallaght based club estimated their financial loss to be €10,000 PER MATCH every time the TV cameras came to town. While it is difficult to assess just how badly Longford’s gate may be hit by RTE’s visit on Friday night, it is safe to say the club certainly will not gain from the national broadcaster's coverage in any other form than added exposure, which could be argued helps attract new sponsors and supporters to the First Division side, although that will have to remain to be seen.
In recent years the FAI have struck a sponsorship deal with an online betting company, who stream League of Ireland matches to interested parties outside of Ireland. Given a number of high-profile betting incidents in the league over the past decade or so, plus the high levels of gambling addiction in Irish society, many have questioned the FAI’s decision to strike such a deal. However, while those are very valid arguments looking at things from simply a football point of view and the finances that go with it, what benefit is such a deal to the twenty League of Ireland clubs? The answer is absolutely zero and here’s why. Under the FAI’s participation agreement that all league clubs must agree to in order to compete in the League of Ireland, Irish clubs do not have the freedom to explore their own TV deals.
While clubs such as Longford Town have made great efforts to overcome such shackles by producing fantastic in-depth match highlights and video content online, Premier Division clubs cannot resort to such basic measures as they must wait until RTE’s Soccer Republic programme airs on a Monday evening. This means clubs often have to wait days until they can share their video highlights, far too late after the event to ever create any real social media buzz, something that is crucial in creating a successful brand in the modern world of technology and short attention spans.
Of course, it would be wrong for League of Ireland fans to take their frustrations out on the likes of RTE and in particular Eir Sport, who produce high quality and ultra-professional coverage of our beloved league. However, one must hope statements such as the Longford Town supporters' clubs can help crank up the pressure on an association many feel are desperate to hand the reigns of “the problem child” over to a new guardian of the domestic league in the coming years and unsolved situations like this do little to dispel that notion.