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The digital way has been paved, now Malaysian clubs must do their part

9:56 PM MYT 02/02/2018
FMLLP iflix
Multiple Super League broadcast deals have been announced over the past week, and Malaysian clubs must build on this unprecedented development.

BY        ZULHILMI ZAINAL       Follow on Twitter

Over the past week, Malaysian football fans have received a number of good news regarding the M-League boradcasting rights.

Last Monday, online video-on-demand service iflix was announced as one of the main broadcasters of the Super League (MSL), while on Thursday telecommunications provider Telekom Malaysia (TM) was announced as the title sponsor of the top tier, as well as the Malaysia Cup, and is also scheduled to broadcast matches on its online platforms.

For the first time ever, all MSL matches are available on the screen, an unprecedented achievement in Malaysian football.

On top of easier access to the fans, what the deals will eventually mean to the club is a bigger financial income. Including league organiser Football Malaysia LLP's (FMLLP) earlier marketing deal with Ampersand Sports, the body is expected to receive somewhere in the range of RM70 to 90 million (around USD18 to 23 million) per year should everything go right.

And with Malaysian FA (FAM) and FMLLP chairman Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim having gone on record multiple times previously stating that the funds generated by the league will be shared more diligently with the clubs without any part of it taken by the FAM, M-League teams can expect to rely on a bigger and more reliable source of income beginning this season.

However, the work is just starting for the clubs.

There are several issues that they need to address in terms of broadcasting, before they can start counting their proverbial eggs.

First and foremost, the practice of refusing match broadcast, something that Kedah, Pahang and Selangor have engaged in last season must be avoided at all costs, as it only drives away potential investors, which in turn will only hurt the clubs' pockets in the long run. For the sake of the broadcasters, hopefully they have written into the contract that they can sue the clubs who are audacious enough to pull such a thing this season.

Kedah asked that their MSL match against Selangor on 15 July 2017 not be shown on television. Photo by Kedah

It is understandable that match attendance (and quick money from ticket sales) may drop when a match is shown on television or the internet, but clubs must not view it as a zero sum game, whereby the broadcast overwhelms match attendance or the other way around.

Instead, they need to look at ticket collection as something that will maximise their income, on top of the already secure (albeit later) broadcast revenue.

They must work harder to encourage fans to attend matches, not just to maximise their income, but to also ensure that their matches are appealing to the broadcasters and potential sponsors.

More importantly, there is one other major downside to all the MSL matches being broadcast, something that may not be too apparent to many and needs to be kept in mind by the clubs. Now every single flaw during the matches can be seen by the whole country, even the region perhaps, to be called out, debated, criticised, and its footage can be turned into Internet memes within minutes of them happening. 

While there are issues that need to be worked on by FMLLP and FAM such as the quality of refereeing, a lot of them are the responsibilities of the clubs.

Gaffes such as water-logged pitches for example, when televised may just encourage potential fans into dismissing the MSL as a 'Mickey Mouse league', never to give Malaysian football another chance.

The clubs must ensure that the scourge of hooliganism and fan violence is curbed, as it is one menace that will drive away fans and sponsors. Granted, football hooliganism is not a frequent occurrence in Malaysian football, but when it flares up it will provide a very incendiary fuel for its detractors' criticism.

Perak fans clash with the police. Photo from Perak Today Facebook page

But at the end of the day, what the clubs need to ensure is that the 'product' that they are selling is of quality; the gameplay itself. There's no point in making the matches available on tv or smartphone screens across the region, only for most of the fans to lose interest and switch it off 10 minutes into the match.

With FMLLP having taken the great leap forward this season through the groundbreaking broadcasting deal, clubs must do their part in ensuring that more supporters will tune in to the matches, not just the fans in Malaysia, but also those all across the Southeast Asian region.