Sport fans confront non-live reality on TV

Rob Forsaith

The absence of live sport in Australia has left an immense void that broadcasters, streaming services and governing bodies are trying to fill.

The COVID-19 pandemic has halted the vast majority of sport in the world, a situation that could continue for several months.

Some Foxtel subscribers have reported long wait times while calling to cancel their subscription, a request that can only be made over the phone.

Sky Sports in the UK is allowing customers to pause their subscription and still access channels during the hiatus.

Optus Sport is suspending its monthly subscription fee until the end of May, but will continue to provide access to soccer fans.

That option has not been offered by Foxtel and Kayo, which both face a major decline in subscribers as reality hits home for financially-stressed sports fans.

Foxtel has instead opted to give customers access to a wider range of channels and on-demand libraries for free until May 31, also producing AFL and NRL programs analysing the codes' financial woes and other issues.

Fox Footy is airing classic clashes from the past that correspond with what would have been round two of the 2020 AFL season, coupling some games with modern-day panel discussions, analysis and interviews.

Bounce, the irreverent Fox Footy show hosted by Jason Dunstall, is still in production and so is The Late Show with Matty Johns on Fox League.

Channel Seven is also winding the clock back, airing memorable AFL matches on 7mate in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia on Friday night, while the league itself is presenting 'Fixture Throwback' on its app.

Seven's The Front Bar attracted 311,000 viewers on Wednesday night and at this stage will remain in production.

Kayo hopes some 15,000 hours of on-demand content, including more than 100 episodes of the critically-acclaimed ESPN 30 for 30 series, will capture subscribers' interest throughout the health crisis.

"Kayo is a month-to-month subscription service. Customers can pause their subscription at any time and come back when they want," a Kayo spokesperson said.

Kayo reportedly shed 32,000 customers between November and February, underlining the challenge ahead for the Foxtel-backed sports streaming service launched in 2018.

The NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL have made their in-house streaming services free for coming months, allowing supporters to pass time by watching replays from recent years.

Cricket.com.au broadcast a trans-Tasman ODI from 1997 on its Facebook page, website and YouTube channel on Monday, inviting fans to engage and treat it like a 'live' game on Twitter.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) has flagged its intent to do something similar with World Cup games, while FIFA has launched its #WorldCupAtHome campaign and vowed to provide full replays of more than 30 unforgettable World Cup games.