'Monday Night Soccer' may be moved from prime-time slot


NEWS:RTÉ'S FLAGSHIP League of Ireland highlights programme, Monday Night Soccer (MNS)faces budget cuts and the possibility of being shifted out of its prime-time slot for next season although RTÉ's Group Head of Sport, Glen Killane, insists that the broadcaster remains "absolutely committed" to the programme and says that any changes will be discussed with the FAI over the coming weeks.

Viewing figures for the programme are widely acknowledged to be disappointing with the 60,000 or so achieved on occasions earlier in the season slipping to an average of just 43,000 or three per cent of the available audience during its time slot in recent weeks.

Matters may not have been helped by the off-field problems encountered by many league clubs this year or by the fact that the title race was effectively over so early but the audience share figure is only a little a quarter of what the station, RTÉ2, averages and Killane admits that its place in the schedules will have to be looked at.

"It isn't great," he says, "although I'd have to say that we always saw this very much as something to grow over time, not an overnight thing. Still, we would have been hoping for around five or six per cent and we'll have to sit down and have a look at it.

"In some way, though, it's actually a difficult slot that it's in because it's up against the soaps and the like and particularly in one television households, there's only going to be one winner there. An off-peak slot might actually help it but we'll have to think about it and talk it all over with the FAI.

"The main thing is we remain totally committed to the show and there'll be nothing knee jerk about our reaction to how it's done so far. It's not a money spinner for us but public service broadcasting and we want to grow the audience, that's part of the deal."

Carrying the programme is indeed part of the broadcaster's wider contract with the FAI for the coverage of football, including senior international games, which runs until 2013 and there appears to be no question that it could be cut before then.

On the question for the budget for next year, Killane says that the review is merely part of the general process currently under way at the station of identifying ways of cutting costs.

"Things are tight," he says, "and we have to look at how best to use the resources available but we're really happy with the quality of the show and we're certainly anxious that we don't do anything to compromise that."

The figures achieved by MNS are put into perspective by the numbers that tune in for English and European club football. Live Champions League coverage on the channel has been averaging some 269,000 so far this season and the World Cup qualifier between Ireland and Cyprus last month attracted an average figure of 517,000.

Televised League of Ireland and FAI Cup games have, inevitably, proven somewhat less popular with RTÉ's games producing mixed figures - from 44,000 for the Finn Harps-Sligo Rovers game up to the 103,000 for the FAI Cup final at the weekend.

RTÉ Radio's Friday night League of Ireland coverage is also under review, meanwhile, and seems likely to be axed for next season. "Nothing has been decided yet," insists Killane, "but long wave doesn't tend to deliver big audiences and again, we're looking at how to make best use of the available resources."

He said that if the programme is cut then some of the money would be diverted to alternative coverage of the league, either in the form of more updates into existing programmes on Friday nights or additional content during weekend sports shows.