Ask and ye shall receive! No need for pessimism here because the 2019-20 ISPS Handa Premiership draw has been released with plenty of time to spare, 83 games across five and a half months before we crown a new national champion. What’s more is that 23 of those games will be broadcast live on Sky Sport as that lot re-up their “partnership” with NZ Football – the service for us fans out there is great but the quotation marks stay because it hasn’t always been an equal partnership, that one… at least not as far as the cash-strapped clubs are concerned but I dunno what the deal is these days. Sky Sport have, in fairness, been doing some lovely things in supporting kiwi sports recently.
This from Daniel Farrow, NZF’s General Manager of Football…
“We’ve worked closely with our clubs and key partners to deliver an outcome that will provide a quality product that is accessible to all. We’re very pleased to announce an expanded broadcast partnership with Sky Sport, which will include a featured live match on Sky Sport for every week during the season and the return of a mid-week highlights show. After the clubs’ successful live-streaming trials in 2018/19, we’re also very pleased to confirm that, under the new partnership with Sky Sport, clubs will be able to live-stream non-televised matches as per the previous season to ensure accessibility for all fans.”
Return of a midweek highlights show? Midweek’s a little awkward for me writing about games on a Monday morning but yeah, that’s great. The more visibility the better and this is a league so brimming with potential if only it would get the coverage and hype that it deserves. Nobody’s gonna take it serious until the people in charge of it take it seriously and this is a pleasant step in the forwards direction. Especially since there’s no fascist-like pullback on the live-streaming licences.
How that telly time is divvied out is always a contentious issue. There’ll be problems with it regardless because it’s impossible to be completely fair… but I think they’ve done a pretty good job of it this time around. Much better than last season, although some of the same dramas still remain. For one if you’re a Southern United fan then you’re not being particularly well served here with the fewest number of television games. Every other team has at least three except for Southern who only get a spare pair and they’re away games in consecutive mid-season weeks. Away to the Welly Nix on January 11 and then away to Tasman United on January 18. Good thing that Southern’s live-streaming abilities are the best in the business then – perhaps NZF figured there was no reason to step on their toes since those games are getting out there anyway? Might also explain why Southern are the only team without a televised home game.
There’s one week that hasn’t been confirmed for the telly and that’s because gameweek 17 could clash with OFC Champions League footy – which suggests that the game they’re looking for is Auckland City vs Canterbury United since it’s a split week where the only other game is the WeeNix vs Tasman and neither of them have anything to do with the Champions League. If that’s the case then it’d take ACFC up to seven televised games and would mean that Canterbury have five, same as Team Wellington and Eastern Suburbs. Again, there’s always gonna be some disparity here but if that trends towards rewarding the best teams with more games, well that quartet were the semi-finalists the last two years and I’ve got no arguments with them benefitting… although it is a gamble considering the level of change that all four have been through.
Auckland City are going to be favourites again by the looks of it. They’d better hit the ground running because they’re on telly in four of the first seven weeks including their first three home games. There’s a nice mix to thing to begin with as there isn’t a repeat team on the Sky Sport schedule until the fourth week (ACFC of course) so seven teams will be featured on screens in November. Gives the ol’ fans a chance to get a peek in nice and early. The unlucky trio not to sneak on in that first month however, they’ve gotta be very patient. Hamilton Wanderers are first televised in gameweek eight which is the weekend before Christmas. Southern United have to wait until after the New Year’s break for their first tilt. Then poor bloody Waitakere don’t have a game on telly until the twelfth week, away to the Cantab Dragons on 2 February 2020 – a full three months after the season begins.
Notably the season is getting a later start this time. The first weekend of November was gameweek four in 2018 so they’ve pushed it back by a full three weeks, although that did include the old charity shield thingamajig with ACFC vs Team Welly kicking things off in a standalone game. That sucker’s gone now (it would have to be ACFC vs Eastern Suburbs anyway – minor prems vs champs) though there are still two split gameweeks in Feb/Mar to work around those OFC yarns. Obviously no kiwi team is going to the Club World Cup this year either so that’ll mean no need to reschedule anything around that in December. Chuck in that there’s still a New Year’s break and the same amount of games though and the season will be ending a couple weeks later than last time as well. Bit rough on those winter league teams but hey these jokers outrank you so what can you do?
Opening Game: 14 October (2018-19) / 2 November (2019-20)
Semi-Finals: 23-24 March (2018-19) / 11-12 November (2019-20)
Grand Final: 31 March (2018-19) / 19 April (2019-20)
Shout out to the groundsfolk in East Auckland because after a season of playing their home games at Riverhills Park, defending champs Eastern Suburbs will actually get to play at their proper home of Madills Farm this time around. All nine of their home games are there including three televised games. Four other teams have the luxury of an unchanged home base for all nine of their hostings – Auckland City (Kiwitea Street), Team Wellington (Dave Farrington Park), Canterbury United (English Park), and Hawke’s Bay United (Bluewater Stadium)… while Waitakere United’s home venues are all TBC at this stage though usually they’re just at Trusts Arena. If any club’s gonna be lagging on the administrative side then it’s the Waitaks.
Hamilton Wanderers play one game in Cambridge at John Kerkhof Park but the rest of their home games are all at Porritt Stadium. Southern United are much more stable than in recent times with eight games at Logan Park… though they’d probably wish they had more than just the one at Forsyth Barr. Then the other two are much more nomadic. The Wellington Phoenix have three televised games, all three are home game curtain-raisers for the A-League side which means two games at Sky Stadium and then another at Eden Park up in Auckland next February (the others are all at Porirua Park). Meanwhile Tasman United split four games at Saxton Oval, four games at Trafalgar Park… and then one over in Blenheim at Lansdown Park which is one of their two home telly features.
As usual the grand final will be at North Harbour Stadium, neutral ground and easy to get the cameras there and all that. There’s always an Auckland bias here but there are three Auckland teams including the last two champions so that’s kinda to be expected. All the TV games are starting either at 4pm or 4.30pm, yet there’s way more funk in promoting Saturday games with as many Sat kickoffs in the first five weeks as there were all of last season. 26 of them in total compared to just 10 last time (11 including a semi-final)… plus we get really funky in gameweek eight when Canterbury United hosts Tasman United at 6.30pm on a Friday night. Now there’s a spectacle. Hamilton Wanderers also have a home game later on in things (also against Tazzie) with a midday kickoff on a Sunday. The more they mix up the kickoff times the better in my opinion – it’s pretty dumb when there are multiple games on at the exact same time in the exact same city rather than staggering them so fans can try catch a bit of both if they want.
That’s probably about all that needs a look-in right now. There are a few specific tasty fixtures out there but those depend on who you support and to be honest most of the draw is pretty tidy. No crazy runs of home or away games thanks to the lack of rescheduled early games. In fact it’s so tidy that there seems to be a rotating pattern with how they did this thing – seven of the eight teams that this could possibly happen to play Team Wellington the week before they play Auckland City.
If you’re really petty about it all, here’s how the cycle goes: Southern -> Waitakere -> Hawke’s Bay -> Team Welly -> Auckland City -> WeeNix -> Tasman -> Canterbury -> Eastern Subs -> Southern -> etc. … the one team missing from that is Hamilton Wanderers whose schedule doesn’t follow this pattern properly and who just kinda happen to pop up in the middle to break the cycle for all them other folks, replacing the club in question in their own fixture list, i.e. Tasman plays Hamilton Wanderers in the week when they would have played Tasman, Eastern Suburbs plays the Tron Wands after Canterbury where they themselves are in the cycle. Which is funny but no dramas since everyone plays everyone twice anyway, who really cares about the order? We’re just here waiting for our footy.
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