Optus mulls A-League rights bid as popularity grows

Arvind Hickman
By Arvind Hickman | 16 May 2016
A-League grand final winners Adelaide United.

Fresh from winning the English Premier League rights, Optus CEO Allan Lew told Fairfax Media the telco is keen to secure the rights to the Hyundai A-League as Roy Morgan research shows interest in Australia's premier football competition is growing.

Fox Sports, the current broadcasters, paid $40 million per season to cover the league, with SBS picking up a game each round. The pay TV operator has another season to run on its contract and is understood to be keen to renew the deal with Network Ten, Channel Seven and now Optus circling.

Football Federation Australia will be hoping for a premium over the next A-League rights, which could increase in value by as much as double, analysts believe.

And recent Roy Morgan research will help strengthen the FFA's case. It found that more Australians watch the A-League than the English Premier League on television.

In 2015, a total of 2.1 million people watched the A-League on TV either regularly or occasionally, which is 50% higher than 1.4 million in 2011. The Premier League's audience of 1.8 million has stayed steady during this period.

The research also found the A-League's popularity has grown across both genders with 6.2% of women and 11% of men now watching it, up from 4% and 7.6% respectively in 2011. 

Despite this, ratings for the competition are still relatively low when compared to Australia's two most popular codes, the AFL and NRL.

In the recent A-League grand final, 506,000 tuned into Fox Sports and SBS to watch Adelaide United humble Western Sydney Wanderers 3-1. NRL and AFL games regularly exceed that amount, with more popular games attracting ratings above 1 million.

Moving to a commercial free-to-air broadcaster, theoretically, could help the A-League grow to a more mainstream audience. However, football fans with a good memories will remember Channel Seven's botched attempt at covering the National Soccer League in 1998 - offering a pitiful hour of highlights at midnight - which probably did more damage than good to the game.

But that was in a different era when football was still largely known by its colloquial name 'soccer' and the fully professional A-League had not yet emerged. The Socceroos are now regarded as one of the most valuable properties in Australian sport and this year's local derby between the Wanderers and Sydney FC drew the largest crowd at Allianz Stadium of any sport, highlighting how far the game has come.

"Not only is this good news for the A-League and Football Federation Australia, it would also be music to the ears of the A-League’s official partner, Hyundai," Roy Morgan Research industry spokesperson Shaun Ellis said about the research.

"In fact, almost 40% of Aussies who watch A-League matches on TV associate the league with Hyundai: a higher level of sponsorship awareness than that of AFL viewers for their league’s premier partner, Toyota."

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