The new season gets underway this weekend but unfortunately for many
that means relying on WATCHLOI to follow both the league and our own
The streaming service made its 2021 debut on Friday night with a free
trial for the President’s Cup tie between Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers at
Tallaght Stadium. It was a game that had almost everything – a wonder
goal, a contentious decision, heated moments and a penalty shoot-out –
so in theory this should have been the perfect marketing tool for the
upcoming season. And yet it wasn’t.
While I was fortunate enough myself to be in Tallaght for the season’s
curtain raiser, I couldn’t help but notice the complaints flood through
on social media. Only one camera, no replays, the loss of sound and no
build-up or half-time analysis were just a few the caught my eye.
RTÉ’s Group of Head of Sport Declan McBennett made the point when
appearing on the RTÉ Soccer Podcast recently that fans couldn’t and
shouldn’t expect a TV standard production from a streaming service and,
as much as it pains me to admit it, he might have a point.
Yet there is a sense that the state broadcaster can still do much more
to better a service which, for the next few months at least, 99% of SSE
Airtricity League fans will have to rely on if they want to follow their
At times last season there was more than one camera at games and surely
for the President’s Cup at least this should have been considered given
it was the major marketing product of the service for the year ahead.
That’s a minor complaint and perhaps one that the Monaghan man would
argue adds to costs. Yet there is so many things that could be added to
the service at no additional cost to make it better.
By now most clubs in the league have some sort of video service so why
not get clubs to submit pre-match interviews or other content to be
included beforehand or at half-time? On Tuesday I attended a press
conference at Oriel Park featuring Shane Keegan, Andy Boyle and Junior
Ogedi-Uzokwe. Certainly Dundalk are more than capable of putting
together a short clip of interviews with these or others that could be
included ahead of their match and other clubs could do likewise.
Similarly the dead air at half-time is a source of criticism. One
notable addition to the WATCHLOI service this year is that there will
now be co-commentators. It’s baffling that someone with the views and
knowledge of the league that Stuey Byrne possesses couldn’t spend at
least a few minutes of the half-time break discussing the first half and
perhaps look ahead to the season or future games. That’s not a criticism
of Stuey but rather the product as a whole as this would fill a notable
void in the stream.
On Friday I was sat beneath the gantry which Byrne commentated on the
game from with Adrian Eames. Either side of me were some of the
country’s top journalist. Within the ground were some of the country’s
top players and some of the country’s top administrators. It would cost
nothing to line up one or a couple of these to speak at half-time.
On a trip to Cyprus a few years ago for Dundalk’s Europa League tie with
AEK Larnaca the club’s press officer Darren Crawley was interviewed
before the game on TV. Apparently in Cyprus it is a big thing to
interview media staff during the course of games and this too could be
considered at no additional cost.
Thinking outside the box could make the service better but also bringing
people in to what is currently a closed shop could make it better too.
During the course of pre-season several clubs put on productions which
were unquestionably better than what we can expect from WATCHLOI this
One of the big losses, meanwhile, of the off-season was Soccer Republic.
The argument was that everything had been tried over more than a decade
to make the show a success with McBennett expressing the view that Match
of the Day and The Sunday Game were the only highlights shows that he
could think of that worked nowadays.
He might be right but the big difference between them and MNS and
latterly Soccer Republic is that they were more present. Quite often
Friday matches were being shown on Monday nights when the very clubs
featured on the show were already in action in their next game.
That kind of thing was never going to work and particularly not in a
generation who in the last few years have become more and more
accustomed to consuming media from providers such as Netflix, Prime,
Disney+ and many others at a time that suits them. The days of sitting
down at a specific time to watch programmes are all but gone. Live sport
is one of the exceptions.
McBennett was right that Match of the Day and The Sunday Game hold their
appeal but the big difference there is that if I’m a Liverpool fan
attending a game in London I can travel there and back and still catch
up on the highlights of the game I’ve just attended and all the others
that way, with analysis, before going to bed. It’s the same with The
Sunday Game. GAA fans can go to a game on any given Sunday and not miss
any of the key moments from any of the other games that day before
laying their head down that night.
RTÉ might claim that everything was tried regarding Soccer Republic but,
while they did try certain things, they never tried to make it so that
the thousands of fans attending SSE Airtricity League games each week
could return home from a game that night and watch back all the action
from that evening with analysis and debate.
Maybe the opportunity of a late night slot on a Friday has gone but in a
digital age could it not be considered on a platform such as the RTÉ
Player or even YouTube.
It would help promote the game, make it more appealing and raise
interest levels not only in clubs throughout the league but give more
bang for the buck for sponsors too.
As a new season gets underway this weekend, we’ll all be glad of
WATCHLOI at one point or another. And yet a bit like some of the players
we’ll be cheering on, we’ll reflect that we wish it could give a little
The ageing centre half or journeyman striker might not have anything
left to give and may need replacing by the summer transfer window but if
those behind WATCHLOI really wanted to they could, in truth, make it
markedly better without huge investment.