The A-League is back – and on the surface looks new and improved. Rusted-on Australian football fans have good reason to be sceptical about another ‘new era’ but on the broadcast front Network 10’s early efforts have been enthusiastic, and building in quality.
Tonight Paramount+ take the baton as Melbourne City and Brisbane Roar kick off the A-League Men’s season. Simon Hill, the broadcaster’s biggest off-season recruit, is confident the framework is in place for football to further itself.
‘It’s still about the product on the pitch, and the players and the clubs have to deliver on that. We’ll try and showcase it in the best possible way we can’, Hill told Box2Box.
‘What you’ve already seen with Network 10 is that football is going to be a priority for them. They don’t have a lot of other sports, so they can invest almost wholly in the success of this competition.
‘Were seeing cross referencing across mainstream programming such The Project, Masterchef with Archie Thompson… that’s golden for us, we haven’t had that before.’
A new broadcast initiative will take flight on Saturday night as the Sydney Derby and Western United versus Melbourne Victory take place simultaneously; with live updates of the alternative clash intending to enrich the viewing experience.
‘This is about the maturing of the competition and our football culture. I think what we might lose in terms of viewership we might gain in that we’ve got two games kicking off Saturday evening, which is prime time for people to get out and watch the games in cooler conditions.
‘We’ve become spoilt in this country in expecting to see every game live and exclusive from go to whoa. It’s a good football decision as well as an interesting broadcasting one.’
On the pitch Daniel Sturridge has the potential to blow the league apart should he stay fit and feel like doing so, the former easier said than done, but doesn’t appear to be shouldering the expectation of previous big names Honda, Del Piero or Villa.
‘You can’t sell a league on one player, and I think we’ve learned that in the past… and maybe with Daniel being over in the west, he’s escaped a little bit of attention over here as well.
‘There’s no doubt he’s got tremendous pedigree, he’s played for some huge clubs. If he’s fit and his head’s in the right place I have no doubt he’ll do very good things in this competition and he’ll put a few extra bums on seats, certainly over in the west in the early days.
‘But there doesn’t seem to be the same sort of desperation for him to succeed [as previously], which puts intolerable pressure on one player. I hope he drives the numbers upwards but if he doesn’t, we’ll be ok.’
Western Sydney and Melbourne Victory loom as two other factors which could see the season explode. Although two of the biggest clubs with fan bases to match the Wanderers have been finals absentees for four years, and Victory are the reigning spooners.
Wanderers boss Carl Robinson talked a huge game in his first season but is yet to deliver, while proven-winner Tony Popovic has taken the reigns at Victory. The success of these clubs is not essential, but is certainly beneficial, in the health of the league.
‘Victory are coming from a long way back, but I think with Popa at the helm you can be assured they will not finish bottom. I think they’ll be top four minimum, and wouldn’t be surprised if they’re challenging for silverware.’
All is in readiness. Enthusiastic broadcasters, marquee signings, dormant powerhouses primed for resurgence. It’s enough to flicker hope in the most cynical fan.
‘This is a big, big chance for football. Everything’s in place, the clubs now have control, there’s money in the kitty and rumours of more coming in via private investment from Silver Lake.
‘So this is our best chance. We’ve had opportunities before but we simply have to take this one because if we don’t, there might not be another.’