The League of Ireland finds itself again in a strange place. On Thursday night, Dundalk FC arguably got the best result in the history of the league when they managed a 1-1 away to AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League. This resulted is framed against a League that has undergone constant change and crisis over the past number of decades.
Many of the problems in the League are due to the proximity of Britain to Ireland. For almost 100 years the best Irish talent has been exported to the Britain. Some of these players have acquired legend status at the biggest clubs. The flow of talent from Ireland increased rapidly towards the end of the twentieth century, and today, hundreds of Irish players earn a living in the various professional leagues in Britain.
Demand for the League of Ireland has been suitably reduced. The demand function for the product is no different to any other. The price, income, quality, preferences, the probability of a team’s success, etc. are all determinants of demand. If you export your best talent, demand will fall.
The high point of interest in the League of Ireland is said to have occurred during the 1950 and early 1960s. Interest in the League has subsequently declined since. What caused this to happen? There are a number of reasons, but it’s no coincidence that at the same time the League started to see a drop in attendance figures, live football from England started to appear on Irish TV screens, with the FA Cup Final broadcast live on free-to-air television . European competitions also started to appear on our screens.
Live televised football increased in quantity during the 1970s and 1980s and in 1992 BskyB changed football as we know it. Sunday afternoon football was to become a permanent fixture. This gave the League of Ireland a big problem. Sunday afternoon had been the leagues traditional kick-off time.
Over the course of the next two decades, clubs in the league experimented with various different kick-off days and times. The majority of clubs migrated to Friday nights. This is probably driven by the actions of competitors. Until this season, the Premier League was screened from 12.45pm to 7.15pm on Saturday, from 2pm to 6pm on Sunday’s and Monday evenings. European competition was shown live on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night. Friday is all that was left.
But now another, potentially bigger problem, has emerged. Sky Sports have changed this again. There is now nowhere for League of Ireland clubs to realistically go to avoid direct competition. I fear this could spell the end for some. While many football fans probably love the arrival of live Friday night Premier League football, keep in mind there is an opportunity cost. It may be the very survival of the League of Ireland First Division.