Fox Sports' loss of the English Premier League TV rights could benefit the value of the next A-League broadcast deal but that hinges on just one issue: the influx of marquee players.
According to independent media communication agency Fusion Strategy, Optus' purchase of the EPL rights from Fox Sports may not be a blow for domestic football. The willingness of clubs and the FFA to sign high-profile players could deem it an opportunity to increase the value of the A-League rights, which already out-rate the EPL.
The initial view of Fox Sports losing the EPL painted a gloomy picture for Australian domestic football with the FFA already amid negotiations for a new broadcast deal with free-to-air networks and the pay TV provider. However, Steve Allen of Fusion Strategy believes the "groundbreaking" purchase by Optus sends sports broadcasting into uncharted territory that could raise the value of the A-League.
"I can see that argument very clearly," Allen said. "The counter-argument is that it's worth more. Foxtel needs to really back this more and fight hard not to give up another match to another broadcaster. The audience the A-League generates on average is far bigger than the EPL because it's in a time zone that's far more attractive."
While boasting a strong and passionate following, the EPL represents a small percentage of viewers for Foxtel due to the timing of live games, deeming it a "tier 3" sport by Fusion Strategy while A-League ranks "tier 2". A blockbuster EPL match such as last Saturday's clash between Chelsea and Liverpool was watched by just 1000 more people than the Brisbane v Adelaide United game, while the Central Coast Mariners v Sydney FC match out-rated Manchester United's goalless draw with Crystal Palace by 8000 viewers.
It remains to be seen how Optus will use the EPL rights purchased for more than $50 million, though the absence of the most popular football league on Fox Sports could make more funds available for the A-League. However, that will likely occur only with greater ratings next season – the final year of the current broadcast deal – brought about by marquee players, according to Allen. The organisation determined a minimum of 5 per cent drop in ratings coinciding with the absence of genuine marquee players this season but believes there is an opportunity for increased TV ratings, branding and broader appeal in the competition.
"This time last year when we had marquee players still in a few teams, they were generating much higher ratings in some of the feature matches when there were marquee players in good teams playing well. They were getting around 100,000 viewers," Allen said. "It was worth 5 per cent of the audience. We've seen slightly greater downturn on that very directly and of course marquee players directly seem to be playing a fair bit in Friday night games where they got big lifts and now big losses this year."