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The League of Ireland punches well above its weight in terms of media coverage

John O’Sullivan says that more coverage does not neccessarily mean more people at games.

A journalist keeps an eye on two games at once Dalymount Park.
A journalist keeps an eye on two games at once Dalymount Park.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

“THERE’S NOT ENOUGH media coverage of the league.”

I read and hear this all the time. People cling to the belief that more frequent coverage of the league would result in more people coming through the turnstiles.

When debates on media coverage occur, it becomes clear that many supporters feel that journalists across all media platforms have a responsibility to promote the league.

Of course, journalists and editors have no such responsibility, that responsibility falls on clubs and the FAI. Nevertheless, the vast majority of people I know covering the league across various media platforms actually have a genuine interest in, even love for, the league.

The truth is that the SSE Airtricity League already punches above its weight in terms of media coverage considering the interest among the general public.

The media criticised for not giving the league an adequate platform are already pushing the league strongly. Over the first six series of games of the league in 2015, the average attendance for the entire league, both divisions, on match nights is just 14,023.

Broken down further, the average attendance at a single league games is just 1400 people.

Even to spin this positively, and looking at alternating home and away games, there are unlikely to be more than 30,000 individuals attending matches, so let’s look at what is laid on for this potential audience.

The coverage among Irish print media is excellent and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There are reporters at every league game. The Sun and The Mirror produce dedicated pull-outs with stories on each club.

There are numerous interviews and articles throughout the week across the sports pages at all papers.

At a conference last year, journalist Owen Cowzer spoke about how real time feedback from supporters, particularly on twitter was influencing the high level of League of Ireland coverage. Also, he stated that League of Ireland supporters clearly buy a newspaper for League of Ireland coverage, something not reflected among fans of other codes or leagues.

It can be argued that the support for the league among local print media is even stronger, especially as clubs become smarter about what the media want and in their use of local, regular press conferences. Every club has a local paper who covers the games and news, bringing it to the attention of the local region, from where the vast majority of potential support will come.

On TV, we have numerous live games through the season as well as a weekly magazine show. There’s good and bad in the TV coverage. RTE seem to have stopped chopping and changing kick off times which has to be welcomed by clubs and supporters.

While Soccer Republic airs late on a Monday, I would suggest that the ratings for MNS don’t justify the time slot. I’ve heard that some shows had ratings in the low five figures. Some have criticised the inclusion of International team content on the show, but I can understand the thinking, it’s the simplest way to get Irish football fans to take a casual interest in the show.

Ideally, there would be a Thursday night show to look ahead to weekend fixtures and create interest; but you have to look at the cost of putting on such a show against the potential viewer numbers.

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Jimmy Neary sells programs outside the stadium before the match Getting people into grounds is still a big concern for teams. Source: Ciaran Culligan/INPHO

Online media is excellent, numerous sites, particularly The42 and extratime.ie cover each game and provide hours of reading material in live minute-by-minute reporting, comments, interviews and statistics.

Even within the clubs themselves, websites are steadily improving and the content is becoming more creative, live online commentary, audioboo interviews and YouTube channels becoming the norm. Limerick FC used periscope to broadcast an U16 game this week. Online platforms allow more creativity and risk taking and clubs are largely embracing that.

Must try harder

There are areas that we can still do better.

National radio coverage has all but disappeared, though GameOn on 2FM and Off the Ball on Newstalk are worthy of praise.

A version of the old ‘Friday night Sportsnight’ show on Radio One1 with one live game and reporters across the grounds would be great to have back, though the same cost versus audience argument I mentioned above applies.

Local radio is still very supportive, with Dundalk, Derry, Limerick among those clubs where local radio provide regular live commentary of home matches.

The FAI also must reconsider the online video ban, their protection of RTÉ and ‘Soccer Republic’ is counter-productive.

While I was at Limerick we uploaded a video of an excellent goal by Shane Duggan which had a thousand YouTube hits when we got a request from the FAI to take it down. It was a disappointing three second clip without discussion on Soccer Republic the following Monday.

Viral video can drive viewers to a product; it can serve as an advertisement. Holding such videos until after the small audience sees them at 11pm on a Monday night is silly. Recently, an excellent Greg Bolger goal went viral and resulted in a large number of spin-off articles and online content.

Don’t forget that Stephanie Roche got to second place in the Puskas off the back of the viral video of her excellent goal.

Online media is offering new opportunities at a staggering rate and clubs must be free to experiment with them.

Today, pick up some of the newspapers and examine for yourself their League of Ireland content. Read through the websites. Then tomorrow, do the same to check out match reports and discussion.

Equate that coverage with the crowd around you at the matches tonight and tell me again how “there’s not enough media coverage of the league.”

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