Football fans of New Zealand rejoice: TVNZ is finally taking the beautiful game seriously! They have announced today that they have bought the exclusive rights to the televising of the English FA Cup semi finals and final for New Zealand, and that is great news.
For me as an Evertonian, it means I don’t have to try and wrestle my Internet connection into behaving well enough to stream the semi-final against Man Utd live, but for football fans everywhere, it means that New Zealand in general is beginning to take note of the sport as a serious spectator sport in this country, a sport that is worth investing in.
Since the Wellington Phoenix started life out as a respectable football franchise in the A-League (don’t even mention the Knights) football has been growing in New Zealand. Already the most played sport amongst Kiwi kids, now they had a team of their own worth supporting in a league that mattered. Yes, the A-League is no Premiership or La Liga, but it is a serious competition that improves all the time, and it has given people a taste for watching and supporting the game, not just playing it.
For those of us serious about our football though, the A-League wasn’t really enough, either in quality or quantity, and so we have been shelling out for Sky to allow us to watch Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Champions League and UEFA Cup matches. Oh and the MLS. But it is very expensive, and many people can’t afford it (as a student, I probably can’t really, but it’s a necessity rather than an indulgence).
Now this is a problem also because many of the A-League matches, including those of the Phoenix, are also screened exclusively on Sky. So unless you live in the Wellington area or have Sky, the total sum of reasonable standard football available for your viewing pleasure is minimal. The amount of high standard football available is nil.
Which is why New Zealand isn’t very good at football. NZ hasn’t made the World Cup Finals for a very long time, and now only really have a chance of doing so since Australia emigrated to Asia. But that is no surprise when 99% of Kiwis have little chance to develop any passion, any emotional attachment to the game. It’s all very well to play at school or with your mates as a kid, but when there is no real future in the game, not enough players take the sport seriously enough for New Zealand football to flourish.
But now, at long last, terrestrial TV in New Zealand has recognised the appeal that football holds. In buying the rights to the latter stages of the FA Cup, they have shown recognition that in fact, football does have a place in New Zealand sport. That they believe there is enough interest in the sport to justify outbidding Sky for the rights to these matches, and so making a significant financial investment in the game.
I really hope that this is a sign of things to come. On a personal level, to be able to see more football on free TV would be great – I’ll watch as much football as there is on TV. But on a national level, it is also a promising move for NZ’s progression in the world game. Giving greater access to high quality football to the majority of New Zealand will only encourage participation in football from kids and make them realise that NZ Football is on the up and beginning to take itself seriously, that they could have a future in the game.
The timing is crucial too, because as I implied before, New Zealand actually has a chance of playing in the World Cup in South Africa next year, if they can win a play off against Asia’s fifth placed qualifier. If the All Whites can qualify for the World Cup, the profile of the match will be raised even further, with New Zealand able to get genuinely involved in the biggest sporting event in the world (Olympics, schmlympics), and the addiction felt all around the world to the beautiful game will infect the nation, and justify TVNZ’s decision to invest in the game.
The decision also places a bit of pressure on the Wellington Phoenix. If all goes to plan, and the FA Cup games get a good audience and the All Whites make the World Cup, they will stand to benefit very heavily from an upsurge in football’s popularity, as NZ’s only professional football club. Which means that it would be very handy if they could have a good season in the A-League. Everyone loves to support a successful club and though as Kiwi’s they are handed an almost inevitable ‘underdogs’ tag in the A-League, they have shown in the previous season that NZ can succeed in Australia.
If, on top of an All White representation at the World Cup, the ‘Nix could give NZ a presence in the finals of the A-League, the public in general would really begin to see that New Zealand can have an impact in world football. This will further encourage people to consider futures in the game, to raise the profile of the sport in the country and to initiate an almost self-expanding cycle of progression for football in New Zealand.
Of course, this is all a lot to read into the decision of TVNZ to buy the rights to three FA Cup matches, but as an Everton fan, this is big news. What’s more, although it is on the surface only a small step for New Zealand football, it is a signal of intent, and after all, we have to start somewhere. I sincerely believe and hope that this move by TVNZ could spark the growth of popularity for football that has been brewing in this small nation for years.
So New Zealand football fans, get up in the early hours of the morning and watch the pinnacle of English domestic Cup competition – it’s free (oh and support Everton, the big four have enough fair-weather fans)! If you do so, and if the All Whites and the Phoenix can have good seasons, football could begin to challenge rugby and cricket and netball and sailing for popularity in this country, and we could see a boom in all things football. Hell, I could even work as a professional football journalist when I’ve finished my degree (offers always welcome). So come on NZ, get behind football and in a few years, you could have something to shout about in the arena of the world’s most popular, and most beautiful game.