No live AIHL final

Thoughts from the girl in the pic who took her Perth Thunder beanie travelling to Northern Hemisphere summer, ‘cos I kind of like my team a bit.

For background, as a fan who is not close to or involved with league management and direction, I respect and want to support the push towards getting ice hockey in Australia as big as possible as quickly as possible. Yes, I want a large sustainable sporting business here, where everyone gets paid and everyone makes money, ‘cos that’s a league where I’m still going to be able to go and see home games in Perth in 8 or 10 years. I’d like a stadium with a decent sound system where you can see all of the ice from all of the seats and yep, I’m willing to pay cash moneys for it.

I can see the “get big(?) money from Fox, grow audience, get more money, have sustainable businesses” thinking that has happened here and I mostly agree with it. I just think the AIHL has handled their relationship with their existing fans very badly over the course of this.

Throughout this season we’ve had two mechanisms for seeing games when we’re not at the rink. ATC Productions have done a lot of livestreaming. I don’t know if they’ve been paid or if it’s been from the goodness of their hearts or if there’s been payment in kind. From my end, I got to log in to livestream for free and watch a live game with commentary – win!

The other mechanism has been through Fox Sport Australia’s game of the week, which I have not tried particularly hard to access, due to it being several days’ delayed and my chances of reaching the game unspoiled being zip. I’m pretty sure that harassing my local bar would have got them to play it, if I’d been able to be there during working hours. Not really super-convenient. For someone who actually wants to watch the games fresh or follow a particular team, this is a particularly shit way of accessing them, but the trade-off is the hoped for expansion of audience, revenue -> sustainable business for the league.

The value of a Pay TV subscription for a couple of hours of desired content per week just doesn’t work for me. Adding AIHL hockey badly certainly isn’t enough to get me over the line. I AM willing to pay for access to live sport. NHL Gamecentre and MLB.TV were both excellent purchases about which I have not the slightest regret.*

So the audience experience is that we get some games live and free and some games late, expensive and difficult to access.  There can’t be any surprise about which the existing audience prefers.

I also don’t think there can be any surprise about what the existing audience expected to happen over the finals. We expected that we would be able to watch the finals live, like you can with every single other sport ever. Free or not would have been pretty much immaterial to us, though in the interests of increased audience, revenue -> sustainable businesses I would have been thrilled to have it live on Fox. We’d have been able to find a bar that WANTED a bunch of excited hockey fans to come and spend money to drink and eat and watch the game. Of that I have no doubt.

Because I also accept that we are cash-cows. And that is fine with me because we’ve all gotta be getting something out of it. I get joy, and they get money and I’m willing to pay for that. I’m happy to exchange cash for live hockey and I’m really happy to exchange cash for live hockey in a crowd. Cash for live hockey in an excited crowd who are all supporting the same team while having drinks?  BEST. POSSIBLE. ARRANGEMENT.  

I’m also reasonably happy for my eyeballs to be a product that the AIHL sells. I mean hell, I’m still on Facebook, right? But I expect that at minimum I don’t lose out when I get sold and that is the problem with what has happened here.

We’ve been sold to Fox as an audience and potential subscribers and in the process of being sold, the value of what we’re getting from the league has been substantially reduced.  It’s massively delayed and on at a time that working folk without Foxtel can’t get to see it.  Both of these factors do not make Fox Sports a more attractive purchase for me, rather they are evidence that I am not the audience Fox wants.

I care enough about having sustainable hockey businesses in the future (and I care enough about the Thunder) that I would even be willing to take this, with a bit more explanation about what the league and the teams are getting out of this deal and how it helps them to move towards a business model where everyone gets paid a bunch.

We’re not stupid. We’re invested in the future of the AIHL too.  

While I would love to see reporting around this, I don’t expect that it would be made public – these aren’t listed companies – but I very much hope that there are internal documents that will be monitoring and reporting on the value of this deal.

And finally, if the AIHL moves transmission rights entirely to Fox over the next couple of years (as I expect they would like to do), I hope like hell that live games are made a priority. I can’t see how being filler for Fox for a few years is a good outcome for the future of hockey or for the growth of the fanbase.  

And given that where we fit in the business model is to be cash cows for either the AIHL or Fox, you need the fanbase to keep growing. Doing the wrong thing by your existing fanbase is not a great start to the project.

 

*And I’m willing to entertain that they wouldn’t be able to provide those streaming services without the resources of big network TV. 

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