IN these trying times, sports across the world are seeking innovative ways to gain revenue and Irish football is no different.
This month the League of Ireland resumed, buoyed by a new online subscription service, which they hope will lead to greater exposure at a time when the country’s domestic league faces increased financial hardship due to the restrictions in crowds – one of the clubs’ main revenue streams.
For access to around 60 league matches and some cup matches, the price of €55 for those in the island of Ireland and €69 for those overseas seems reasonable, especially with the income generated going to all 10 of the league’s clubs.
The new service is being presented in partnership with RTÉ Sport, who will be providing the cameras and commentators for matches across the country.
This is an experiment which you imagine was in the offing for some time, but which has almost certainly been accelerated by the pandemic.
Time will tell whether there is enough interest in Ireland and from ex-pats abroad to make it a marketable service going forward. However, the league, the FAI and RTÉ Sport deserve huge credit for trying something new to gain more interest in the Irish game, even if it fails.
Yet Irish football’s authorities will be aware that a subscription service is not going to solve all the issues with the League of Ireland.
But instead should be just the start for a league which desperately needs to try everything to better the product having been dogged with financial problems, a lack of ground improvements and falling interest in the last decade.
You can see why some believe a merger with the Northern Irish Premiership to create an all-island league competition is a credible solution to Irish football’s woes.
The IFA – Northern Ireland’s football association – have long appeared in opposition to the idea but it’s a concept which certainly seems like a win-win for both sides.
The two big clubs in the north’s Irish Premiership are Linfield and Glentoran and both get average attendances over the 2,000 mark, similar to those such as Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers playing in the south.
Matches between those clubs with nationalist and loyalist connections would raise questions over possible violence. However, they would no doubt create more interest, bigger attendances and greater revenue for clubs.
Unlike the League of Ireland, the north’s Premiership already has good exposure in the UK, with the cup final shown on the BBC’s platforms and league matches shown on Sky Sports.
Their current deal with the latter is for the broadcaster to show five league games a season as well as the NI League Cup final.
An all-island league may present a more interesting package to Sky Sports and other broadcasters.
The League of Ireland and the FAI cannot force the north’s footballing authorities to join forces but it must look to exhaust every avenue to make it happen as it looks like being the quickest way to growing domestic football in Ireland.