Money, Money, Money

“We shall squeeze the lemon until the pips squeak.” These words could have been uttered by the Chief Executive of Setanta at the beginning of the season (in fact they were used by President Clemenceau of France during negotiations with Weimar Germany after the close of World War I).

Setanta is a name that was largely unfamiliar to the British public until the beginning of this season. The company entered the public’s conscience when it shelled out £312 million to purchase the television rights to show 46 live Premiership games for three seasons. Last week, Setanta returned to the public’s attention for buying the television rights to England’s away World Cup qualifiers, and since then Iridh broadcaster has become a name which is synonymous with the greed which has poisoned the English game.

It would be disingenuous to claim that the greed of chairman, Premier League executives and television executives have all worked to the fans detriment. Every week we are privileged to watch some of the world’s greatest footballers plying their trade in comfortable and safe stadia or from the comfort of our own homes and pubs.

Football has become more accessible, no longer is a fan limited to a highlights package on a Saturday evening and a European/England game during midweek (if we were lucky). Nevertheless, what can only be described as a debacle took place last week, and the situation highlighted how the tentacles of greed has left many fans disillusioned with the game in a week that the England team picked up maximum points to sit on top of the group and put in a truly professional performance in against Croatia (it wasn’t great – Croatia had 10 men).

Viewing figures released for the Croatia game show that on average 1.4 million people tuned into the game (992,000 watched the match against Andorra). To put this in context the final of the US Open (tennis) attracted 1.2 million viewers, a match which began at 10.30 in the evening and finished two hours later. How can viewing figures for the national team playing the nation’s game be just above that of tennis, a sport with limited appeal?

Setanta paid £5 million for the rights to show the Croatia game. Claim and counterclaim followed from Setanta, the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV. Setanta stated that for a cool £1 million they would sell the rights to show the highlights package and that they had only been offered a maximum of £500,000. In the game of brinkmanship which followed it was the fans that suffered with ITV buying the package for an undisclosed amount and showing it a day late.

Setanta reluctantly announced before kick-off that highlights would be available on Freeview. However, in an effort to get people to subscribe to the channel this was advertised with as much effort as the Croatian defense put into marking Theo Walcott. The FA has claimed that they were powerless to stop this (foreign football associations own the television rights to their home games) which is true but it is hard not to think that if Setanta had offered them this kind of money they would have accepted, thinking little of the fans.

The focus on Setanta has also brought to light a larger question. Setanta’s interest in football (or sport in general) to improve subscription levels, is nothing new, it is a tried and tested method originally pioneered by SKY (in England). The Premier League claimed that selling the rights to Setanta would be beneficial for the fans as it would offer more choice and break SKY’s monopoly. I am not unfamiliar with the concept of a monopoly and there are two main reasons for breaking one.

As well as bringing choice to the market, the other reason is to lower prices for the consumer. Have prices gone down? Have they heck. In addition to the SKY package for which you now receive fewer games for the same price, you have to pay at least £9.99 per month to Setanta to watch all the aired Premier League games live.

Can someone please explain how this is beneficial for the fans?

I am also familiar with the concept of the free market and that the pound is king. However, what the Premier League forgot long ago is that this is the people’s game and that they are the custodians of the game for the people. Unfortunately, Peter Scudamore and the clubs claim that this benefits fans ring hollow.

Take for example a Chelsea fan, who has seen Premiership money pumped into their club coupled with the largess of Roman Abromavich (who has put in over half a billion pounds) ticket prices did not go down this season, nor did the cost of club merchandise.

The £5 million that Setanta paid for the rights to show one game is a large amount and proves that whilst the economy is experiencing a downturn there remains one industry that is recession proof. With wage bills rising and the average cost per ticket of going to a Premiership game breaking the £100 barrier everyone is laughing to the bank at the fans expense.

Hopefully the furore which has erupted will illuminate the murky relationship between football and television. Maybe fans will make a conscious effort to boycott Setatnta for their unreasonable behaviour. Unfortunately, the likelihood is that Setanta’s strategy in the long run will pay dividends.

Eventually watching the Premier League in this country will become like watching the NFL in America, where if you want to see all the games live you have to subscribe to four different channels.

For those of you who enjoy watching Spanish football on SKY, Italian football on Channel 4 or European games on ITV and SKY beware, it can not be long before Setanta looks to add these games to its portfolio.

All at a greater cost to you.

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