Lisa Fallon: Why would we give away LOI product for free?

New pay-per-view only LOITV scheme works out at same cost per match as season tickets

 

I write today as a fan of the Greatest League In The World.

I grew up watching the League of Ireland. I had the privilege to report on it and eventually got to coach in it with Cork City and recently Galway United.

It’s a league that I love.

And now, with the new season fast approaching, it’s really brilliant that our football stadia can, once again, be inhabited by devoted Irish football fans who also love their domestic game.

Some people say it’s a bit of a niche market, but I disagree. I think it’s the most undervalued asset in Irish football and at some point, maybe not this season, but eventually, the light-bulb moment will happen.

This week, the FAI announced the continuation of League Of Ireland TV (LOITV). It was welcome news albeit the pricing packages raised a few eyebrows. Over the last couple of years, LOITV subscribers could sign up for a season pass, a half-season pass or they could opt-in on a pay-per-view basis. There was something for everyone. Also, the Women’s National League (WNL) games were made available, without charge, in a bid to encourage new viewers and supporters. And that definitely worked.

This year, the LOITV season pass is not an option for subscribers, only the pay-per-view option. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
This year, the LOITV season pass is not an option for subscribers, only the pay-per-view option. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

This year, the season pass is not an option for subscribers, only the pay-per-view option. It’s €7 per Premier Division game and €5 for the First Division. The WNL games continue to be available without charge.

If you consider that an adult Premier Division season ticket costs around €280, then the price to attend a league match is roughly €7.75, so the LOITV subscription charge is genuinely comparable.

That forces us to ask: Is €7 a fair price to pay to watch a League of Ireland game?

“I won’t be buying any game for €7 or for 5. Not a single one. Insanity,” opined one Twitter user as debate pin-balled around social media.

Let’s play out this scenario.

A League of Ireland club spends all week planning and preparing for their game. Training sessions and team meetings are prepared and held, clips are cut, analysed and watched, conditioning work is executed, physios engage in rehab and prehab programmes for players, coaches deliver tactics and a quiet word here and there, all as the grass is lined and trimmed. Backroom teams and players work really hard all week to be able to perform and get a good result for their supporters every single week.

And that’s just on the pitch. Behind the scenes, sponsors are garnered, tickets are sold, teabags are bought and soaked on an industrial scale, toilets are cleaned, gear is washed, administrators administrate, players deal with the media, match previews are written, websites are updated, stewards are prepped, merchandise is ordered and sold, stock-taking is done; buses, hotels and pre-match meals get booked, supplies are ordered and paid for, fundraising is planned, volunteers are rallied.

For people who cannot make the game and want to watch from home, cameras will be prepped and wired and commentators will spend long hours researching and preparing nuggets of information.

What is it all for? Is it all for nothing?

I can never understand the concept of free tickets or ‘comps’. Why would you give your product away, for nothing?

Imagine Apple spending years investing in staff, technology and resources, with people working relentlessly to deliver the next iPhone. And then to turn around and say we will give it to you for nothing?

They would never give it away for free. Top football clubs around the world do not usually give away free tickets, even for staff. You might get a discounted rate, but it’s never for nothing.

When you go to work in your job, and put in the hard graft all week, you would not do it for nothing.

Because it has to be for something.

We have a league of our own, right here, in our community. But if we really want a professional football industry in this country, we have to put a value on it and we have to pay for it.

And when big clubs come in for our players, we can tell them the same thing.

“We have a league of our own, right here, in our community. But if we really want a professional football industry in this country, we have to put a value on it and we have to pay for it.” Photograph: Evan Treacy/Inpho
“We have a league of our own, right here, in our community. But if we really want a professional football industry in this country, we have to put a value on it and we have to pay for it.” Photograph: Evan Treacy/Inpho

All the years of energy, commitment, understanding and experience that goes into developing great talent cannot be given away for nothing, or next to nothing.

Imagine a strong, powerful marketing campaign that shows what goes into a League of Ireland or WNL match? And if there is a perception out there of the league being dull or low quality then people could be shown how vibrant the football has become.

Some, like me, remember when Lucozade was the drink you got when you were ill and convalescing, now it’s all about fuelling you for high performance.

Imagine – despite its imperfections – we told people how good the LOI really is.

If you go to a funfair, you’d easily part with €3 for a two-minute rollercoaster. Seven quid for a 90-minute one is seriously good value, I’d even pay €15.

But that’s just me, someone who grew up watching and working in and around this league, our league. I just wish we could share it with the rest of the football family.

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