SBS director of sport warns it could become victim of its own success over A-League coverage with networks ‘lurking in the wings’

Ken ShippKen ShippKen Shippken_shippSBSKen Shipp2b6bb8eSBS could become a “victim of its own success” if it can generate large audiences on its main channel for A-League football and pull in solid advertising revenue, the broadcaster’s director of sport has warned.

Ken Shipp has predicted that free-to-air networks will be circling when the next round of negotiations begin for the A-League should the 2014/15 season prove to be a success for SBS.

The incumbents – SBS, Foxtel and Fox Sports – are entering the second year of a four-deal to broadcast the A-League with negotiations for the rights from 2017/18 likely to start next year.

SBS announced yesterday that it will switch its one live match per round from SBS Two to SBS One when the new season kicks off in October. The decision followed talks between SBS and Football Federation Australia (FFA) which, unsurprisingly, has always been keen to see SBS broadcast matches on its main channel.

Shipp said switching to the primary channel will lead to higher audiences and enable its sales team to have a “healthier conversation” with prospective advertisers. But he warned that SBS is commercially hamstrung by its limit of five minutes of advertising per hour.

“We were satisfied with the return on investment last season, we did quite well surprisingly, but we are aiming to improve that this season,” he said.

“But sometimes we can be a victim of our own success. If SBS can generate large audiences and big revenues from the A-League then it will attract interest from elsewhere. If we get it right I would expect there might be one or two interested parties lurking in the wings [when the rights are renegotiated].

“Our problem is that our ability to commercialise any sport is capped. When you have sold all your advertising space you have nothing left in the tank and it means we can’t always compete on a level playing field. It puts us at a disadvantage.”

But he added that if broadcasting the A-League increased the popularity of football “then we would have done our job”.

Shipp also warned football authorities to be careful should the major free-to-air networks come knocking.

“The sport has to be careful. Does it want to be the third tier sport at a commercial network or does it want to be the number one sport. Before you jump into bed with another network you need to think about how much love are you going to get.

“I have made the point to the FFA generally that they might give you a bit more money but are you going to be their jewel in the crown or are you going to be number 10 on a list of 20 products the are trying to flog.”

Meanwhile, Shipp said the decision to broadcast its football coverage on SBS2 came amid fears the live A-League matches would not draw a sufficiently large audience.

Friday night audiences on One pulled in 350,000 with only 240,000-250,000 expected to watch the football, he said.

SBS Two pulled in 250,000 for the first three months of the season but fell away with the average for the season closing on 132,000.

“There is no question we will get a higher audience on One. Anything north of 250,000 would be fantastic and if we could get an average across the season of 350,000, which is probably optimistic, I would be over the moon,” Shipp said.

Steve Jones


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