General Footy Writing: It’s hard trying to watch the footy when the broadcaster goes bust

By Ben Jensen

Sometimes I hate being a footy fan outside Australia.

I had it all worked out last year; got myself a Setanta Sports subscription; at only £9.99 a month I was supposedly going to get four games live a week. That’s almost better than back home!  By the time the Cats and Port kicked off the 2008 season at Footy Park that had been reduced to three live games, but still not bad.  And if the Cats weren’t screened live, there was always the weekly highlights show hosted by Craig Willis (also broadcast by another pay TV channel, British Eurosport).

Now, though, we’re left with nada; Setanta UK has gone “arse up” and while rights such as English Premier League, FA Cup and England games will be snapped up pretty quickly, there’s little chance of anyone wanting AFL or NRL rights. And the poor old Scottish Premier League, Gaelic Athletic Association and others may end up with no coverage at all.  Let alone the various incarnations of poker.  Given that I’ll be in Leipzig, Germany (I hadn’t heard of it either) this weekend I couldn’t have watched the much-hyped clash with the Saints this weekend anyway, but it still hurts!

I actually had most of last year for free as my provider, Tiscali, forgot to start billing me in November. (Tiscali incidentally is another company gone broke but it had a brilliant product – in addition to being your phone and internet provider, you got a set-top box that received digital TV signals and plugged into your router for pay TV delivered over your ADSL line!)

Accompanying the Aussie footy on the Setanta channels were two Premier League games a week, often featuring my team (Arsenal), various GAA sports (Gaelic football and hurling); lower level, ‘non league’ football; Indian Premier League cricket; a bit of rugby and much more.  Sports I never watched include PGA Golf (they even had a dedicated golf channel), NRL games, US Baseball, NBA and ‘UFC’.  When I moved to Scotland towards the end of 2008 and started taking a keener interest in the SPL, they covered that, too.  In other top level football they had England’s away games, and FA Cup.

Come 2009, and the Aussie footy coverage had dropped to two games a week with no explanation.  Having moved to Scotland, where it was just all too much for Setanta to figure out, I was now watching it via Sky, and it was up to £12.99 a month.  I had obtained their full range of channels, however, the gems being Setanta Ireland, Setanta Sports News, Arsenal TV and Liverpool TV.  Also throw in Celtic TV, Rangers TV, ESPN America and ESPN Classic.  Too much fringe sport is barely enough!

About three weeks ago it was first flagged that Setanta were passing around the hat to staff in order to stump up a £20 million payment to the EPL.  They were also due a smaller £3 million to the SPL, but that could be postponed, the SPL not having vultures waiting in the wings to secure cheap rights to the (self-declared) best football league in the world.  I was in Belfast last weekend so didn’t catch the news until the Monday, but when the EPL confiscated the rights on the Friday due to a lack of payment, it effectively sealed the death warrant of the company, in the UK at least.

Last Monday, it was announced that ESPN, the Mickey Mouse (Disney) owned global sports media giant had indeed picked up the EPL rights Setanta had.  Fresh from ruining Cricinfo’s simple website layout, ESPN have been keen to get into the UK football market for a while and bid for the EPL rights last time round, but lost out to Setanta and Sky, and have picked up a bargain here, with a to-be-announced package and pricing to come some time in the future.

Naturally, the official website borrowed from the infamous Iraqi Information Minister ( or perhaps the Dead Parrot sketch by John Cleese ( and claimed everything was fine, and that they were, in fact, still accepting new subscriptions.  That’s good then!  Well, perhaps not, as the next morning they did in fact go into administration, and by the time I got home that night none of the Setanta-branded channels (except the Setanta Ireland channel) were working.  ArsenalTV, LiverpoolTV and the ESPN channels were working, although the Old Firm Celtic and Rangers channels were, perhaps mercifully, offline.

Ironically, that night Geelong’s thriller with Freo was on TV, on the Eurosport2 channel that gets two games a week.  Terrible picture quality mind you, but at least it was on, even if it was two days late.  An interesting thing happened during the game: quite a few ads for their highlights show trumped the fact they were the “only place” you could watch the AFL, and during the show proper a graphic flashed up advertising an AFL Magazine show on the Sunday afternoon.  So perhaps Eurosport have seen an opportunity for a new niche market and are ready to run with it?  Wouldn’t want to get our hopes up!

On Friday morning my time, there was some good news: Telstra and both the AFL and NRL had agreed to stream all games of this weekend over their respective internet sites, ‘free’ to anyone in England, Scotland and Wales.  Not sure why they didn’t just say UK; perhaps this is to highlight that Northern Ireland will be left out.  I did give it a crack from work on the Friday; I could hear comedian Dennis Cometti carrying on about soon-to-be-beatified Chris Judd but could not see any vision.  Gave it another shot on Saturday but got nothing; regretfully I stayed up a wee bit too late on the Saturday night so didn’t get up by 5am to see if it was working for the Cats game but by the sounds of it I didn’t miss much anyway.  Hopefully it’s working (and still free of charge) for next week’s game with the Saints, or punters may be drawn into a bloke called Justin who provides a similar service for naught.

Hats off to the AFL for their work so far; I certainly didn’t expect any commonsense whatsoever to prevail for the round just gone.  From my own selfish perspective, given I get Eurosport for only £1 a month from Sky, I hope they pick up a couple live games a week, but who knows?

Now to find a pub in Leipzig this Sunday morning with a don’t ask-don’t tell live feed of the game at 6am local time. It’d be such a pity to miss the Cats taking top spot from the Aints.

About Ben Jensen

Geelong fanatic back in town after a few years away.


  1. Just trolling through the archivesand found this.

    I feel for you Ben. We in the UAE receive 2 games a week on ‘Showtime’. The only local option for AFL. They have just linked with another broadcaster that has allegedly increased the number of channels to 500+, however most of the new ones can’t be accessed, at least by us.

    I can’t work out the criteria for the 2 games broadcast. Sometimes it will be the Friday and Sunday games, otherwise Sat and Sun. We have received games from Fox, Ten and Seven, so there is no link from there. I can only think the AFL passes on the rights to games that they select, although no rhyme or reason is apparent.

    My main bone of contention is that the games are often the least interesting to me. Next week features games between no finals contenders for example. Although usually at least one game involves some interest.

    As a Lions fan, I have seen them twice this season, both losses which I would have preferred not to witness. Likewise the wife and couch which have taken the brunt of poor umpiring decisions eye-witnessed and therefore responsible for everything bad in life…

    Often I can find little correlation between the game witnessed and the reports in The Age. has been closer to the mark, however it is really only the Almanackers that keep me reliably informed of the soul of the game.

    Good luck for future viewing!

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