Soccer republic is no more! RTÉ announced during the week the causality of their new television deal with the FAI is the highlights programme.
With video streaming now all the rage, the demise of soccer republic will be painted up by the RTÉ PR department as new digital media winning out.
I’ll get to the stream or not to stream argument again, but soccer republic’s relegation is another watershed in the history of the League of Ireland.
Starting life as Monday Night Soccer in 2008, this was the programme that League of Ireland fans had been calling out for since the mid-1970’s, their own version of match of the day.
From 2002 to 2007, TV3’s Eircom League weekly had aired on late Monday night TV, for so many what Irish soccer were missing was dedicated weekly highlights.
However the viewing figures for RTE’s programme never veered higher than 40,000 which is not all that great for a time slot of 8pm.
When the powers that be moved the programme to 7pm the viewing figures remained similar and furthermore when the prime-time slot was unavailable due to World Cup, Euro’s, Olympics etc, the late night viewing attracted around! Yes 30-40,000.
The reality was TV sets were seeing a loyal diehard fan base, but in its 13-year run, Soccer Republic never attracted a new audience.
Attendances at league of Ireland grounds didn’t grow. Players came and went, but rarely did League of Ireland football create the water cooler moments that people dreamed of.
The end of soccer republic is in fact the end of another general league of Ireland proposal to fix things.
In 1993 as part of Sky Sports new coverage of the premier league, the FAI received a seven figure sum from their English counter parts as they were broadcasting into a foreign territory.
The money was wisely spent for once with the majority of league of Ireland clubs installing floodlights. Shamrock Rovers the final club to depart the old two o’clock on a Sunday kick-off time.
Yet the argument that tea time Sunday kick-offs were the crowd figures problem, didn’t truly stack up. Yes there was some improvement in the new Friday night fixture list and even calls for the FAI to step in and restore the traditional two o’clock on a Sunday games.
So argument two didn’t really if at all improve things. Argument three, summer soccer arrived in 2002.
There is a very tangible table that can be created demonstrating the improvement of Irish teams in European football and the knock-on effect since. But again in the 19-years of summer soccer, crowds have barely improved. Crowds have stayed the same.
While option three has benefits, it wasn’t the silver bullet that many believed it would be.
Option four, which you hardly ever hear these days, “The All-Ireland league”.
When North and South divorced in 1921 so too did football, the Leinster FA, Munster FA and the Fermanagh and District FA leaving the Irish FA to form the FAI and with it the League of Ireland.
While for the next near 80 years, the big Irish league clubs led with the money and even the best players from south of the border spear headed by Linfield, Glentoran and Portadown.
Like the Celtic tiger changed things in the country, the League of Ireland felt its effect also, now the richer of the two leagues on this island. UEFA even ranking the League of Ireland at 37th to the Irish league 42nd place, a recent high for northern football.
While efforts have been made to establish some form of All-Ireland league in the last two years, the experience of the Setanta Cup from 2005-2014 didn’t build confidence.
Linfield and Crusaders the only Northern teams to win the competition, of the nine finals five were all southern affairs. There were no all-northern affairs.
So now at this stage of 2021 is there any options left open? Streaming is the new dream of sports fans. Yet the figures outside blue chip sports for streaming services are not all that good.
Firstly there is a measurement issue. To register as a viewer on a TV station, you must have the station continuously on for 90-seconds to register as one viewer. One second is the requisite for Facebook/Youtube et al.
Now Covid-19 is different, and fair play to RTE, FAI and GAAGO for developing WatchLOI, but! And there’s a-but the reported subscription figures for 2020 were just 11,000. While 5,000 subscriptions were handed to season ticket holders; that total figure is less than half of how many people watched Soccer Republic.
It’s not just the league of Ireland bubble who fall into the streaming trap door.
The use of technology, “he was watching it in New York” or “I was able to watch it on the bus on the way down” unfortunately doesn’t pay the bills. Something league of Ireland clubs have a track record of missing out on.
The demise of soccer republic will be spun positively by the FAI’s PR department, fans will cheer the end of the programme; a format they weren’t happy with, but its demise is a cold, cold assessment of where the league of Ireland product is.
As U2 put it on one of their early albums “We thought that we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong”.