As Al Ahli set to host Fujairah at the Rashid Stadium tomorrow, the confirmation that all Arabian Gulf League (AGL) matches will be encrypted moving forward raises a concern.

Proponents of the move believe that it would take the league a step further in terms of professionalism, raise much needed revenue for the 14 teams and also drive attendances. While critics (I happen to be one of them) believe that there are other important elements to focus on before they ask fans to cough up a few dirhams to watch the games. This divide is as great today as it was a few years ago when the initiative was initially proposed.

With this move, the broadcasters believe the pay-per-view scheme is the most viable option to drive fans to the stadiums while arguing that it falls in line with traditional best practices followed elsewhere. Agree with the latter as it does follow international best practices, however, the main factor behind any sort of TV encryption is based on the issue of privacy. With leagues like the BPL, Bundesliga or even a La Liga, it makes sense. But in regards to AGL, with minimal to non-existing viewership numbers, the league in its entirety will suffer.

The flip side to the argument is that with the influx of international names like Babel, Jo, Denilson, Lima, Valdivia and Milligan, just to name a few, would drive fans to sign up and pay to watch them play if they prefer to do so in their own comfort.

Pro League Committee (PLC) chief executive officer Suhail Al Areefi was recently quoted as saying, “Of course they are not happy. Were you happy when they encrypted the World Cup or the English Premier League? No one was happy. But this is a plan to increase income for clubs. The broadcasters [Abu Dhabi Sports Channel] pay Dh185 million yearly so how will they get that back if it’s not encrypted? All leagues are encrypted, not just here, and it’s nothing, no more than Dh400 a year or Dh20-30 a month. That’s nothing. So hopefully we will take the benefits.”

However, retreating back to the point of the move driving attendances, it’s baseless with no data provided to prove the stated fact. On the contrary, the only observable moment when attendance was at its peak was when ex Al Jazira CEO Carlos Nohra was in charge in early 2013 (albeit for 7 months) due to the changes he had implemented. During his reign, one could actually hear Al Jazira inviting the Asian community on Asian radio in the Hindi language.

Since that weird boom, the numbers had decreased and never been the same. To be honest, as much as the league is working on sustaining the current fanbase, the clubs within the league are missing the resiliency and ethic to bring in news fans and seem to be content with how things are functioning at the moment. Why should they? There was no pressure on the club to bring in the revenue, that is until today (referring to encryption).

Miquel Pancorbo, president of Sport, Gulf Marketing Group had nailed the elements that needs to be worked on during the recent Deloitte Seminar on Football Finance held in Dubai. According to Pancorbo, the league is going through some positive changes but need to do more if they “wish to attract a wider fan base and increase revenues.”

“They need to create a strategic marketing plan, allow their matches to be family friendly, and make it easier for fans to track the timings of the matches, location, etc. using various social media or internet tools,” Pancorbo said.

All of the specific points raised here by Pancorbo deserve their own detailed explanations which will be discussed in future pieces.

However, all that being said, as it stands currently, if you are interested in the Arabian Gulf League and are considering the option of watching the games from the comfort of your home, we compared a few options here and the best/cost effective option points towards signing up with OSN. Unless, you have another most cost effective option, do let us know.

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