The A-League season made its long-awaited return in mid-July, and despite plenty of excitement amongst top flight soccer supporters, the audience ratings have been largely disappointing so far. Unfortunately, it was a far from triumphant return, with just 12,000 viewers tuning in to catch Sydney FC’s 3-1 victory over Wellington Phoenix. According to OzTam, even fewer soccer fans witnessed Central Coast Mariner’s trip to face Perth Glory just 24 hours later, with the FFA understandably expressing their concern about the constantly dwindling audience numbers.
Although the figures are understandably disappointing, there are likely to be various reasons for the exceptionally low turnout. The increasing popularity of other sports and competitions has to be factored into the equation, with the A-League struggling to compete with both the AFL and NRL. Australian rules football remains one of the most popular sports in Australia as it continues to dominate TV ratings, with the best Australian betting sites offering odds for individual matches and the outright markets as they attempt to appeal to the modern audience. The enforced break has meant that soccer is directly competing for an audience share with both Aussie Rules and Rugby League for the first time in a number of decades, and this will surely have contributed to the decline.
These numbers do not include streaming figures, and with an ever-increasing number of sports fans now opting to watch events via their smartphones or tablets, traditional TV viewing figures are slowly becoming less representative of society.
As a result, Fox Sports has gradually scaled back its coverage of the competition, and whilst soccer aficionados are understandably disappointed by this decision, clubs such as Sydney FC have decided to take the matter into their own hands. The Sky Blues have recently launched their new online pre-match show which is hosted live on the club’s Facebook account thirty minutes before kick-off. Former Fox Sports presenter Simon Hill is joined each week by a special guest with the pair analysing team news, dissecting recent performances, as well as dealing with fan correspondence. With 350,000 followers across their various channels, the club were always likely to succeed with this venture, however, fellow top flight sides may struggle to attract the same level of interest.
With the show being streamed live on social media, it provides a superb opportunity for fans to interact with the club. Fan engagement has become increasingly important over the last few years, and with teams desperately trying to attract a younger fan-base, live streaming appears to be the ideal way to attract the next generation of Sky Blues fans. The inclusivity offered by these shows also helps fans feel closer to the club, with traditional TV outlets such as FOX often unable to dedicate any great length of time to a single club or player.
Whilst their innovation has been applauded by the FFA, they aren’t the first club to go down this route. Prior to their appearance in the 2016 Copa America Centenario, the Mexican national soccer team chatted directly to fans using Facebook Live, whilst Real Madrid have done various pre-match shows ahead of crucial UEFA Champions League encounters. Other sports have also followed suit, with sprinter Usain Bolt having regularly conducted Q&A sessions from his bedroom just days before a race, whilst the Denver Broncos broadcast Peyton Manning’s retirement press conference via this medium, allowing fans to share their memories of the popular quarterback, as well as send their best wishes to the outgoing star.
Horse racing remains one of the most popular sports in the world, although it has traditionally been slow on the uptake when it comes to online streaming and fan engagement. However, the Breeder’s Cup became a trailblazer in 2019 when it launched a series of live pre-race shows which were broadcast across Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. This helped increase visibility and awareness of the event, which has also suffered a slight dip in TV viewing figures over the last five years.
Sydney FC have taken the initiative with their pre-match show, and although other A-League clubs have a far smaller following, many may choose to follow suit over the next twelve months. Western Sydney Wanderers are the latest outfit to follow in the footsteps of the four-time champions, and with the majority of A-League clubs now producing an increased amount of live content in-house, the days of traditional television coverage could potentially be numbered.