With the announcement earlier this year that the domestic rights for the Premier League had been sold for over £5 billion for a three-year cycle there will be few who would bet against the announcement that the bidding for the 2016-19 cycle of overseas Premier League television rights will similarly result in a big increase in revenue. Respected blogger The Swiss Ramble puts in an estimate that this will rise from a current figure of around £2.2 billion to £2.9 billion – whilst pointing out that others have predicted an even bigger rise.
The successes in marketing the Premier League product however, can be in sharp contrast to the experience of clubs in the territories where the games are broadcast. One such place is New Zealand where the challenge continues to be getting broadcasters even interested in indigenous football.
While Wellington Phoenix, who compete in Australia’s A-league, do enjoy some screen time they are very much the exception – and even they have faced criticism from some quarters about low viewing figures compared. The country’s flagship club tournament, the ASB Premiership, a summer tournament made of franchise clubs, continues to be dogged by a lack of broadcaster interest which have led to real concerns about its future.
These concerns have necessitated a rethink of the league’s structure in a specific bid to broaden its televisual appeal. As Andy Martin New Zealand Football’s Chief Executive recently announced:
What we’re doing is looking at a competition that, at the moment, is not on television and is not as sustainable as it might be, so there’s a lot of dependency on trust funding and some of the clubs aren’t as financially secure as we might want them to be,
Working with clubs, regional federations, various experts and the broadcaster Sky plans are currently in the development stage with details likely to be unveiled later in the year. Periodic format changes have however, been something of a hallmark of football in New Zealand and the current format is itself barely a decade old.
Familiar observers may question whether another change will really achieve the desired change. It is also likely to do little for the games winter clubs who make up the backbone of grass-roots football in the country. It is these clubs who contest the Chatham Cup. First played in 1923 the cup is New Zealand’s oldest tournament, but despite being described – in terms not unlike those used to talk about the FA Cup – as a ‘national institution’ even the final itself can go without being screened. In 2013 the game appeared only on local television network Canterbury Television, and even then was not live while in 2014, for the final between Central United and Cashmere Technical, New Zealand Football took matters into their own hands and carried out a pilot in streaming the game live on the internet.
Whether this, or the impending restructure of the ASB Premiership, offers any hope for the future in terms of getting New Zealand’s football clubs on, at the very least, domestic television screens is an open question. In a country with a population of just over 4.5 million and where local football must compete with not just Rugby, but the English Premier League for people’s affections and attention the challenge is a formidable one.
It is of course difficult to say just what the overall impact of the Premier League is on the domestic game in places such as New Zealand and whether this is damaging, or even perhaps beneficial. As the amount of revenue the Premiership generates from overseas broadcast rights grow however, questions need to be asked about what the league’s wider grass-roots responsibilities are in the all the places where it generates revenue.