Friday, 13 August 2010

"Can You Kick It?" - Absolute Football

The Premiership football season in the UK starts again this weekend, and there’s something slightly different about it this year. Not only will you be able to hear live commentary of certain matches on BBC 5Live and TalkSport, but there’s a new player on the pitch. Absolute Radio.

Absolute Radio has won the rights to broadcast Barclays Premier League football commentary as part of a three year deal that kicks off this weekend. The station will bring live commentary from 32 exclusive Premiership matches during the 2010/11 season.

So – there are a few things to discuss here...

1 - Does adding football commentary to a music radio station blur to definition of the brand, or add another exciting dynamic to it?
2 - Has the strategy to launch an additional DAB channel, Absolute Radio Extra, to host to the commentary, and the 'split output' been effectively communicated so far?
3 - Will it work, both in terms of audience and revenue?

Let’s deal with the ‘brand’ thing first. Absolute Radio is a music radio station first and foremost. But there are 3 additional factors here. First, it’s a music radio station aimed at men, who traditionally are likely to enjoy football more. Second, it’s a station that has driven the concept of providing ‘entertainment’ in all sorts of forms, particularly in the digital space. And finally, the station has a long connection and heritage with ‘football as entertainment’, with the “Rock n Roll Football” brand being invented by Chris Evans back in the old Virgin Radio days. (The ordering of the 'Saturday afternoon take-away' on air was always a highlight!)

So adding football to the mix on Absolute Radio seems to be a perfectly logical thing to do, and in my view, it falls well within the brand boundaries of the station, and certainly adds a new dynamic to it, and will potentially drive some new listening, as well driving more brand awareness through natural talkability amongst fans.

Regarding the communication strategy... I was slightly confused about how to listen to be honest. I know from listening to the station over the last week, that live commentary is happening on Saturday, but it won’t be on 105.8FM or the national DAB signal I listen to. However, there is the usual Rock ‘n’ Roll football show from 3pm on those channels (Music and goal flashes etc). If I want to hear the live commentary, I need to tune to 1215AM, or listen to Absolute Radio Extra (a new DAB station), from 1:30pm, where I’ll hear commentary of Aston Villa v West Ham, presumably with a 90 minute build up. Then from 5pm, I can hear new signing, Ian Wright’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Football for 90 minutes, which presumably will be similar to 5Live’s ‘606’ show... comment, analysis, phone-calls etc. This, however, will not only be on Absolute Radio Extra, but on 105.8FM and the Absolute radio national DAB channel. Still following?

As one presenter said on air yesterday, "You need a flow chart to follow what’s going on!" I’m not sure if enough has been done to explain this all to listeners, or if it will just naturally fall in to place? I believe that real fans actively ‘seek out’ live commentary, so if a Villa fan tuned in to 105.8FM and couldn’t hear their team’s game, I’m sure they would try and work out where it was. Plus, I’m believe it will be heavily cross promoted at the time. E.g. “For those of you wanting live commentary, re-tune now to our sister station etc...”. After all, it works for BBC 5Live Sports Extra quite well. But even today, I heard some talk up of the commentary, and no mention was made of the fact that I will need to retune waveband or find it on another DAB station etc.

So, finally... will adding football commentary work in terms of audience and revenue

In terms of revenue, having unique content that can drive a decent sponsor is always a great starting point, and the Premier League comes from the top drawer of content (even if they are the 2nd pick of Saturday afternoon matches). So it’s a no brainer for Sky Sports to sponsor the live commentary Rock ‘n’ Roll Football, and all the pre and post match shows as well as having an online presence. (They’re doing the same on TalkSport). This will bring in a healthy amount of revenue to Absolute. The price the station paid for the rights hasn’t been made public as far as I can tell, but presumably the sums add up to make it a worthwhile enterprise, as well as the invisible value it brings to the station. Will their notorious transparency extent to letting us know how much they paid for the rights? ;-)

In terms of audience, we shall see. Commentaries are a funny thing, as they tend to drive loyalists to those teams, but don’t always attract the masses. Splitting the output may well be the wisest thing to do, as there’s now a choice consumers can make. Football... or with music! We shall see this time next year how much of an impact it makes, however I suspect that this is not all about pure ‘generic reach’. It’s about the value of a listener that has a deeper connection with specialist content... and that’s worth a lot more to advertisers.

So – I look forward to hearing the coverage this weekend, as we’ve been promised "an alternative style of football commentary", and the commentator, Jim Proudfoot, is a really excellent communicator on radio. (Believe it or not, he used to read the sports bulletins when I was on the radio about a hundred years ago!!)

Good luck to all the team at Absolute Radio this weekend. Let’s hope they get a home win / score goals with the audience / are top of the ratings table / bag 3 points every week... **insert your own footballing cliché here!**

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