Atletiba and the Future of Watching Football

The derby between Atlético Paranaense and Coritiba Foot Ball Club, known as the Atletiba, is usually an occasion to be savoured. It is the biggest game in the Southern-Brazilian state of Paraná and ignites the passions of the state capital Curitiba. The two will face each other this Sunday, February 19th, and this time the game will be special for another, rather different, reason. It will be the first game in a major Brazilian competition to be streamed live on YouTube.

The clubs have jointly decided to follow this course of action after failing to reach an agreement with the Globo television network, the omnipotent broadcaster that holds the rights for the vast majority of domestic Brazilian football competitions and has enormous influence over the game in the country.

This is a landmark moment in sports broadcasting in Brazil and feels especially significant in a country where one broadcaster has so much power. Globo is often the target of protests from supporters because of the authority they exert over kick-off times. Many mid-week games in the country start as late as 9:45 p.m. so as to begin after the end of Globo’s most popular novela, a type of Brazilian soap opera that draws huge viewing figures.

Corinthains fans protest against Globo. The banner reads: “Football, hostage of the Globo network”.

According to a report by ESPN Brasil Atlético and Coritiba rejected a deal of around 1 million Brazilian reais to broadcast the derby for the next three years, branding it “absurd”. The transmission on YouTube will have a commentator, pundits and even pitch-side reporters. Thousands of comments on the ESPN article responded positively to the news, many people saying that they will watch the game despite not supporting either side merely in the hope that it will in some way move towards breaking Globo’s monopoly.

This follows a worldwide trend towards broadcasting games for free over the internet. Last year BT Sport broadcasted the Champions League and Europa League finals free-of-charge on YouTube in the UK and Wayne Rooney’s testimonial was also shown live on Facebook, attracting over 3.7 million viewers, of whom 71 percent were younger than 35.

Mexico’s Liga MX, the most powerful domestic league in Latin America, also recently signed a deal with Facebook to stream 46 games over the course of this season live on the site. Bloomberg says the games will be shown with English commentary, as the league looks to expand into new markets, particularly the US.

Chivas, Mexico’s second most popular club, have even gone so far as to eschew broadcasting on television entirely. All of their home games are available only through the club’s official internet pay-per-view service. This is an audacious move but one, that if successful, will surely be imitated by other clubs across South America.

Online transmission perhaps represents the future for football broadcasting as more and more people turn to illegal, internet-based means of watching matches and television audience numbers drop.

Sites like Facebook and Youtube provide a platform for clubs and leagues to take control of the way in which games are shown over the web and to directly reap revenue from advertising if they so wish. If the Premier League, for example, were to broadcast games online for free one can only imagine that the audience numbers, and thus the demand for ad space, would be in the stratosphere.

In the age of the internet free-of-charge online streaming may ironically become the only way for leagues and clubs to make money from the transmission of their matches.

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