One of the year’s biggest stories crept by last month without anyone paying too much attention. You’d almost think the mainstream media had a vested interest in ignoring it’¦
After years of burying its head in the sand the Premier League has eventually come out blinking into the sun and admitted that internet streaming could crush the professional game’s finances.
For the uninitiated, internet streaming basically means you can watch football on the net for zip all instead of splashing out on those expensive Sky and Setanta subscriptions. There are amazing parallels with the music industry which has been trying to tackle this problem since the days of Napster in the late 90s.
Both music and football have punters who show a type of love and loyalty that most industries can only dream of. Do they work with this and cherish the relationship? Do they hell. They see themselves as having a divine right to cream off every last penny they can from the ‘˜consumer’ and end up corroding much of the goodwill that got them where they are.
The music industry tried to scare fans by saying the major labels would go bust and no ‘˜talent’ would be found. People knew it was rubbish, the labels are only the delivery systems, the middleman. The net changed all that. Loads of new bands are turning their back on the majors, they can market themselves online, signing to a label is no longer the Holy Grail.
Similarly the football industry warns that if TV deals collapse we won’t be able to afford the ‘˜talent’. Well, most people are well and truly sick of the ridiculous wages they’re asked to fund anyway and understand the contempt with which Setanta and Sky treat the average match-going fan. No sympathy here. Plus, we’re not daft, if TV deals everywhere drop through the floor, it evens out. If English teams can’t afford to pay Â£100,000-per-week because of free online football, how would the Italians or Spanish?
Technology brought football its billions through TV, and it’ll take them away through the internet. Take a look at the music industry. CD’s made the song digital and record labels millions as people replaced their old vinyl with CD’s. But they’ve found one almighty problem with this. You could copy analogue (remember mixtapes?!) but sound quality suffered and it was a bit of a faff. Then digital transformed all those lovely sounds into 1 and 0’s (we know 10 binary jokes and they’re both rubbish) which could be shared with minimum fuss to millions of people, for free, once the internet arrived. Whoops.
Football’s experience of this is taking longer but the same is happening. Those lovely satellite companies have gone to the trouble of digitising (and globalising) all their content so that instead of a NASA-approved-two-ton satellite dish in your backyard, all you need is a TV and credit card. Get a laptop and you can share the pictures with millions if that’s your thing.
The Premier League will huff and puff because they stand to lose billions in TV deals. But the internet is a system developed to allow the US Government to communicate in the event of a nuclear holocaust. It’s pretty Richard Scudamore proof.
Clubs are getting worried but it’s a problem of their own making. Extortionate prices mean the next generation has (largely) turned their back on the live game. A lot of younger fans today don’t need the live fix. They think football’s watched on TV anyway and the average Premier League crowd is now in its mid-40’s and rising in age year-on-year.
But what happens when the masses realise they can watch ‘“ for nothing ‘“ live games on the internet? TV revenue disappears and clubs go bust. This isn’t just a problem for the top-flight either, it goes all the way down to conference level where clubs rely massively on Setanta’s money.
Clubs have to drop prices and win back the next generation who aren’t currently hooked on the live game. Relying on the Russian Roulette of TV revenue will cost them in the end.
The Football Supporters’ Federation is the organisation that campaigns for you and represents more than 142,000 fans across England and Wales. For more information, or to join, visit www.fsf.org.uk or email [email protected]