It was no great surprise that there was widespread condemnation of the English Premier League’s latest broadcasting deal. £5bn is a figure usually associated with government budgets or multinational takeovers, rather than showing sport on television. However, that’s what Sky and BT are prepared to pay in order to bring English football into the homes and pubs of their subscribers.
Of course, we’ve been here before – almost every time a new contract is announced, there is outrage about the obscene figures involved. It’s been that way since satellite dishes – round and square – started appearing on the external walls of households more than twenty years ago.
Supporters groups, journalists and, because it’s an election year, politicians, will all have their say. They will appeal to the Premier League and the clubs to share the wealth, reduce ticket prices and remember the ‘little guys’ at lower league and grassroots levels. They will do so fully aware that their words are more than likely to fall on deaf ears.
The Premier League was, to be blunt, created by the clubs for the clubs. It has developed into an unstoppable juggernaut which gathers ridiculous revenues on its travels. It didn’t get that way by being fair or by thinking of anyone on the outside looking in.
There are two real reasons why the English game has reached this point. First, because those who oversee the top division don’t really care what anybody else thinks and second, because they’ve been allowed to.
That second point is the key. The English Premier League, it’s member clubs and its partners (particularly Sky) have, for more than two decades, been allowed to run amok. They’ve altered kick-off times, priced the game out of the reach of many ordinary fans and may yet be allowed to play domestic matches thousands of miles away.
They have been virtually unchallenged. Sure there have been dissenting voices over the years, with some expressing their displeasure at how the modern games treats it’s ‘customers’ and others turning their backs on top level football to watch the ‘real’ game, much further down the pyramid.
However, these individuals or small groups have been outnumbered by those who have bought into the brand that is the English Premier League (apologies for the use of that term, but that’s what it is). They have been seduced by the clever marketing and the expensive signings from overseas. They still follow their team, even when it costs £62 for an away ticket, for a match hundreds of miles away. They still fork out for season tickets and still pay three figures for a replica kit, which allows their five year old to wear the team colours and his favourite player’s name on the back.
They do all that in the knowledge that their club is absolutely coining it in, while giving very little back to their followers. Sure, there are pre-match fanzones and clubs become involved in the local community, but does anybody seriously think that they couldn’t do more?
The only way to bring about real change is for English football fans to take a stand and hit the powers-that-be where it hurts. That involves cancelling Sky subscriptions and, more painfully, boycotting matches.
Of course, it won’t be easy. Imagine if AFC Bournemouth are promoted at the end of the season and their fans are then expected to basically walk away from their first season in the top division.
However, for English football fans, that is the reality if they want to reclaim the game for the ordinary, working class fans who built it. Comments on forums, phone calls to radio stations and banners at matches are falling well short of what’s required – it’s time for real action