Streaming company BarTV Sports has revealed it pitched the idea of a Netflix-style TV streaming service to FFA six years ago, but the governing body declined to pursue the proposal.
The Newcastle-based broadcasting business covers grassroots and lower tier sports competitions as well as the FFA Cup, the W-League, the NPL Capital Football and the NPL Northern NSW Football Federation, in addition to working with the likes of Cricket Australia, Rugby Australia and the AFL to stream leagues.
The idea of FFA launching its own independent over-the-top (OTT) streaming service for football content, with Foxtel cutting back its spend on the A-League, has been gaining traction recently. But Brendan McCormick, owner and co-founder of BarTV Sports, says previously the governing body had its “blinkers on” over the concept and the quality and cost of the broadcast involved.
“The FFA TV thing, we pitched that whole idea to them close to six years ago and it just fell on deaf ears because they were in that process of ‘OK how many cameras is it going to be?’,” he told The World Game.
“Well it can be as many cameras as you can afford, but you can’t afford 13 cameras because Fox pays for that through the advertisers. We can do it for next to nothing, but you have to forgo the bells and whistles.
“Keep in mind a lot of those FFA Cup matches occur in grounds where they don’t even have a grandstand. We’re building scafolding the day before, our power is running out of a little petrol generator.
“FFA has got those blinkers on - if it’s not 13 cameras it’s not a full broadcast. We tried to explain to them, and they’ve come around over the years, that all you need is the one camera - the wide shot - especially for football.
“If you’re watching the Premier League and it’s a free-flowing game up and down, it’s that one camera down the pitch. It’s not until a whistle’s blown or a goal is scored that you need those extra cameras where you can show all the different replays.
“So that’s what we did, we specialise in a one-camera shoot, which made it extremely affordable for that grassroots level. When we went with it for the whole FFA TV concept – we didn’t call it that, we didn’t really have a name for it – but the concept itself was actually around the women’s game.
“Similar to the whole NBA Press Pass, we said why don’t you put your women’s watches behind a paywall like Cricket Australia? When we said that for the women’s game there just wasn’t the advertising dollar – or more importantly there just wasn’t the motivation from the FFA to do that.
“I think now it’s a different ball game. For a while there more people were watching the Matildas than watching the Socceroos.
“Everyone is now operating in a really different environment. We still think we have a great offering and we’ll obviously continue to keep having conversations with sporting organisations – including the FFA – about how we might be able to work together.”
McCormick believes the environment for streaming is much more fertile now than it was in 2014, and feels Australian football needs its own direct to consumer content service to keep progressing and expanding.
However, he concedes FFA has a battle on its hands in working with the powerful state federations.
“I think for the game to continue to grow they have to go down the path of an FFA TV,” McCormick said.
“There are too many commercial assets within football in the lower tiers. FFA have tried to go top-down, but in going top-down it stops because each of the state federations have the power too look after their own competitions.
“AFL goes top-down and it goes all the way to the bottom. Whereas the FFA can only look after FFA Cup, A-League, W-League and then the Socceroos and Matildas. But the federations have some power, so when they weild their bat they just curtail any of the decisions made by FFA.
“And football in Australia has always had that mentality of don’t tell us what to do. We said to the FFA you need to take control of the NPL because even though you might only get 2000 people to watch one game, but there’s 40 games per weekend. It’s the collective numbers.
“And if you look at the crowds, sometimes you’re only getting 16,000 people to a Western Sydney Wanderers game, or 4,000 to a Mariners game, where as you could get 1500 or 1600 people to a single NPL NNSW match.”
Apart from Australia, BarTV Sports also operates in New Zealand and Europe, and streams up to 200 matches across different codes every weekend. McCormick believes the advantage that Australian football possesses is the huge amount of content at its disposal, especially in women’s football.
“Content is king, so if you’ve got 20 matches with one camera versus two matches of 10 cameras each, you’re almost always going to get more eyeballs on the 20 matches,” he said.
“That’s just the nature of the beast because of that tribal mentality of football in Australia. You can have 6000 fans and followers watching a South Melbourne game versus maybe 7000 fans at the Central Coast Mariners.
“I think there’s been a lot of fluff involved in Australian sport because of the advertising dollar. I think COVID-19 has exposed how much advertising has been taken out of commercial TV and put into Facebook, YouTube etc.
“Being able to having it in-house is going to cut costs but also allow a lot more content to actually be exposed and promoted. The women’s game is that wave that can really drive that.
“Women’s sport is definitely a big area that’s just to continue to grow, even with COVID-19 happening. But FFA-wise I think their biggest hurdle is how well the state federations have progressed, versus the FFA putting a leash on them and bringing them under their wing.
“But the whole second division, I think promotion and relegation needs to come in. For the A-League to grow that needs to happen.
“We’re all about connecting sport at all levels with fans and making it a great experience.”