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Oct 8, 2012

Big A-League audience a boost for TV deal

Departing Football Federation Australia chief executive Ben Buckley will be hoping record A-League attendance and broadcast figures translate into big bucks at the television rights negotiation table.

Buckley, who will be replaced by former NRL boss David Gallop next month, was beaming on Monday when he announced the domestic television audience for round one which finished on Sunday increased by 53 per cent on last season's average of 65,000 viewers per round to over 100,000 viewers.

On top of that, the 93,800 fans at five stadiums during the opening week beat the single-round record of 87,000 achieved in round three last season.

Rival football codes the AFL and NRL have announced record $1 billion-plus media deals over the past six months, and the pressure is on the FFA to boost their TV ratings to add cash to their game.

With one year remaining on the current media deal, Buckley is in the midst of negotiating a new broadcast contract before his departure in November.

The A-League has arguably been hamstrung by a pay-TV rights deal sold relatively cheaply in 2005 for an estimated $125 million over seven years when the competition was born.

It is thought a new five-year deal worth over $40 million per season will leave the game in decent shape and a free-to-air TV deal will be crucial in the new broadcast structure.

The weekend's record crowd and domestic viewing figures doubtless owe much to the high profile recruitments of Italy's Alessandro Del Piero (Sydney FC), England's Emile Heskey (Newcastle Jets) and Japan's Shinji Ono (Western Sydney Wanderers) who all made their A-League debuts.

However, the crowd figures were also given a huge boost by the 42,032 who passed through the turnstiles at Etihad Stadium for the Melbourne derby between the Victory and Heart on Friday night.

Buckley also touched on the importance of television to the commercial success of the league when pointing to new audiences overseas.

"The exciting thing is that the game is now going to more corners of the world than ever before," said Buckley.

"The Sydney FC game (against Wellington Phoenix) being broadcast live into Italy is a wonderful opportunity for us to promote the A-League to players who may want to come here in the future as well as fans.

"So to be broadcast into Japan, into Italy, right throughout Asia, right across the globe is a testament to the credibility the A-League is getting worldwide."

While it's still early days in the season and it remains to be seen if the audience boost is lasting, the figures are a welcome boost for the FFA with the Socceroos, whose success is also crucial to the game's financial health, in a precarious position trying to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

Buckley and the FFA are also still trying to rebound after a disastrous 2022 World Cup bid when they only registered one vote and were convincingly beaten by tiny emirate Qatar.

The failure of A-League franchises Gold Coast United last season and Townsville-based Northern Fury FC in March 2011 also cast doubt on the viability of the national competition, forcing the rushed introduction of Western Sydney Wanderers this season.

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