Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Football On The Telly - A Rant

Go back in time to the first SKY deal. There were several interested parties. ITV were serious contenders and desperate for the coverage as were SKY.

At the time the England team were suffering from a spate of not qualifying for major tournaments. Football as an entity was in dispute with TV and there was a period where there was no football at all on TV. Imagine that today!!

The big clubs felt that they were not getting as much as they “deserved” from the pot of TV monies with the breakdown being something like 1/2 of all revenue for Div1, ¼ for Div 2 and 1/8 each for Divs 3 and 4. They also resented sharing all gate receipts with their opponents. So they stopped. All gate receipts went to the home club. The big clubs had begun to flex their muscles.

Emboldened by this little coup they pressed on. TV started showing games again on an ad hoc basis on the BBC and ITV.

Then the big boys (i.e. all Div 1 clubs) decided to resign from the Football League and continue under the auspices of the FA. The Premier League and silly divisional names were born. The excuse was to reduce the number of teams and thus games in the PL so that the top players were less likely to be over-tired come the Summer competitions allowing the National side a better chance to be successful. There’s one born every minute so they say.

Turkeys, however are not keen on Christmas, and the cuts made were much smaller than first intended. The also rans in the PL were too numerous to allow the elite to get the vote through and none of the clubs really wanted less games because it meant less gate revenue.

Next came the play-offs, increasing the number of games played, where the team above the relegation spots went into competition with those from lower divisions. This didn’t last long either. The fear of relegation put an end to it. The play-offs were a money spinner and continued in today’s format with the 2-legged final replaced by a show piece one-off match.

The Daddy of them all though was the exclusive TV deal for Live rights to broadcast. SKY as a new operator in a virgin market was under threat. Originally there had been a competitor in BSB. There wasn’t room for 2 companies and they “merged” (in reality a SKY takeover) forming BSKYB as we have it today. Both companies were hugely in debt. Set up costs were massive and uptake had been slow. A boost was desperately needed or they were down the pan.

When the bidding process for the football coverage started sealed bids were to be posted and considered by the football clubs with the deal going to the highest bidder. BSKYB had a man on the inside in the shape of Alan Sugar, then chairman of Spurs, the manufacturer of the hardware needed to receive the satellite signal. AMSTRAD (Alan Michael Sugar Trading) was looking dodgy too – the home word processing market was saturated and his foray into Hi-Fi failed big time. AMSTRAD gear was a by-word for cheap, unreliable tat.

Quite simply BSKYB and AMSTRAD (and thus by association Spurs, too) could not afford to allow anybody else to get the deal. At the last moment BSKYB’s negotiator was over-heard on a phone call saying “we have to blow them out of the water”. A new, improved and very late BSKYB bid was made, ITV’s bid was dwarfed, they didn’t have time to launch a counter punch and riches beyond the dreams of the clubs who set up the PL fell into their laps.

(Detailed at some length in the book "Moving The Goalposts" by Ed Horton.)

Football was the Trojan horse needed by BSKYB to be successful. It needed something that die hard and loyal fans, sorry customers, would pay for and the only alternatives would have been to buy out major soaps like Corrie or EastEnders. These were never up for grabs so they turned their attention to sport and football in particular. Films? You’re having a laugh.

Since then they have gobbled up virtually everything else: cricket, rugbies, golf, boxing, motor sport and far more besides. Sport is their crowning achievement and the jewel in their crown. Without it they would have foundered long ago.

Football, at the top level, has done really well in financial terms out of the deal but BSKYB has done far better. Football, for all the vast sums involved has sold itself cheaply and along the way has lost no small part of it’s soul.

But it’s even worse than that. BSKYB began buying up shares in clubs always being careful not to exceed the 10% limit that would mean they were only allowed to invest in one club. Having a large say in the ownership of several clubs is quite useful in their line of business. The biggest clubs then set about corralling the bulk of the TV income themselves. Man Utd, to chose but one, finish higher up the league so they get more prize money, they are on TV the most so they get more appearance money, they get the biggest crowds so they get more gate money. With all the financial advantages in their favour they maintain market dominance and the process becomes self-perpetuating and people like the Glazers recognize a cash cow when they see one. It makes me laugh to hear their fans carp about Abramovich and how unfair it all is. They just don’t like it when the boot is on the other foot.

Not content with dominating national football the clubs then set their sights on European football. The abomination that is the Champions League was created involving in most cases neither Champions nor a League and so it continues.

But make no mistake about it at the very heart of the issue lies control and who has it now? The fans? Individual clubs? The PL? The FA? The Football League? BSKYB?

What time did the coaches leave Plymouth for Norwich again?


At 5:32 pm, Blogger The Rev PAFC said...

As we're getting into the mutual admiration society frame of mind ;)

Seriously, though, I think this is perhaps the most eloquent and concise explanation of why Sky and all its demons are destroying the game I've yet come across (pace Mike Sainsbury).

BTW, I haven't forgotten what you said about posting a sermon. Am currently debating whether to start a second blog to dump them all to - some bizarre and arrogant idea of a resource or something....


Post a Comment

<< Home