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Football fans finally have the chance to vote with their feet – or rather, their eyeballs – in the fight for promotion and relegation in Australian football.

The Australian Association of Football Clubs (AAFC) has long been pushing for the creation of a national second division, which it says is crucial to unifying the football pyramid, creating more professional opportunities for Australia's youngsters and encouraging a more equitable distribution of football's capital.

For years, doubters have argued that there simply isn't enough of that capital to fund a second division and account for the geographical challenges presented by travel, a lack of general interest and therefore difficulty in attracting sponsors to the game.

The AAFC has long advocated for creative solutions to this problem, including making games as easy to view as possible via live streaming services.

Football fans of both persuasions await with bated breath for the AAFC's long-awaited plan for a national second division, although FFA board member Remo Nogaratto did seemingly confirm on Twitter that the FFA's Second Division Working Group has been making progress on proposing a model. 

To date, the National Premier Leagues and indeed the clubs themselves have flirted with live streaming, with mixed results.

The FFA Cup has also been live streamed by Fox Sports and attracted some decent viewing numbers.

However, Football Victoria's announcement is truly a game changer, as it is the first time the NPL will be available in its entirety for free via live streaming.

The state federation will now cover every senior NPLV men's, women's and under-20s game.

In addition to this, two games from the NPLV second division, NPL2, will be broadcast as well.

The significance is that the bickering over whether there is or isn't enough interest in a national second division will finally have some actual data behind it, and that means it's time for #SokkahTwitter to back up its insistence that there is the thirst and demand for the competition.

From Football Victoria's point of view, it will be interesting to see how it can monetize the streaming in the coming weeks.

Friday night's match between Pascoe Vale and Bentleigh Greens, a six-goal thriller which the Greens won 4-2 and was also notable for the return of Hakeem Al-Arabi to his NPL club, has had more than 2,500 views on YouTube at the time of writing and had a number of strip banners playing throughout the match advertising registration for Football Victoria streaming.

The other three games, South Melbourne v Dandenong CityMelbourne Knights v Altona Magic and Hume City v Oakleigh Cannons, drew in approximately 3,900, 4,025 and 1,600 views on YouTube respectively, taking the first night of streaming's total views on YouTube alone to more than 12,000 viewers.

Not a terrible result given the streaming was only announced mere hours before Friday night's fixtures, especially given these numbers don't reflect viewing numbers on Facebook.

The total views the four streams show as having on the NPL Victoria Facebook page tops 21,000 – with approximately 13,000 views on the South Melbourne v Dandenong City Facebook stream alone.

Of course, these numbers need to be contextualised.

Adweek.com suggests that YouTube counts a view as long as a user has watched “around” 30 seconds of a video, while Facebook counts a view as soon as the video starts playing on someone's feed and 50 per cent of the video's pixels are on a device screen for more than two seconds. 

This means while these numbers are generally reflective of how many people found their way to the stream, they don't necessarily mean over 30,000 people sat down and watched a whole NPL game on Friday night.

Nevertheless, this makes for an impressive start. Even the most conservative estimates would suggest that at least 10-12,000 people watched a substantial amount of NPL on Friday night, not including the healthy crowds at Pascoe Vale, Hume City and in particular Melbourne Knights and South Melbourne.

With all games now available on demand on both YouTube and Facebook, those numbers could continue to grow.

Football New South Wales teased a similar streaming announcement on their social media platforms on Friday, though it remains to be seen if they will provide the same extensive coverage being seen in Victoria.

If they do follow suit, it could well be a powerful demonstration of just how much interest there is in a national second division.

For the AAFC, the move could prove a defining one in proving once and for all that the demand for a second tier is no longer one the FFA can ignore.

Categories: Analysis | Local | Football Business

npl victoria, football victoria, aafc, football nsw, broadcast rights, streaming

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