By Tony Attwood
TV money funds the Premier League. Not just Big Time, but Very Big Time.
OF course if the TV companies started to lose interest in the Premier League, then nothing would happen much at the start as the TV companies would be forced to continue to pay for live programme rights they now can’t afford.
Then the TV companies would go back to the clubs and seek to renegotiate, perhaps paying for the current mad deal over a longer period of time. And all the while the clubs would know that with the next deal, income would drop dramatically.
That would mean that salaries and transfer fees would start to drop. Any players on very high wages would be offered for sale – but the players would probably refuse to move if everyone bidding for them was offering less than half their current wages.
Youth players would be in very high demand. Clubs with well established youth policies would be helped, but some other clubs would go into liquidation or be bought up on the cheap.
And all that as a starter if TV audiences started to drop.
Which is why a large number of people are looking on with anxiety as figures are starting to emerge showing that the ratings for football have started to fall. Premier League games on Sky Sports are getting 20% lower audiences than last year. Champions League matches are showing 40% lower audiences. Could the unthinkable be happening? Could fans finally be turning off?
Questions are being asked, and answers being provided – although not necessarily the answers that are accurate. There is talk that people are cutting back their subscriptions because of their decline in living standards and worries about the future – particularly the UK leaving the EU. Others suggest that given the vast array of product on Netflix, there is always something better to watch. Yet more speak of the fact you can follow a game on Twitter.
A few, like Untold, note the way in which football is presented on TV, and a growing awareness of the fact that commentators are often ill-informed, see the game from an utterly different point of view from that of the fans and that many media outlets are biased. Plus a growing thinking among some that there is something amiss with refereeing and the PGMO.
All in all presentation is akin to a Martian taking over news and current affairs broadcasting on the BBC. Its ability to judge what makes news, and its ability to comment on the news meaningfully would be somewhere around Pluto on a scale of the Earth the the Moon.
Meanwhile, the Olympics, the weather and the success of Leicester (who attract smaller audiences) are all blamed by the TV companies, desperate beyond measure to ensure that no one suggests there is anything wrong with their presentation of their product.
But throw in a realisation that the images we see on TV are manipulated to show a “more exciting product”, and the realisation that started some years back that commentators have no connection at all with everyday fans, and disillusion grows.
Some of course still watch, but with increasing numbers watching with the sound turned off (thus making them immune to the message of advertisers) those advertisers are starting to ask if it is really worthwhile. Add in a growing awareness of the corruption of football officialdom… well, there isn’t much positive to say about media coverage.
But that is not all, for there is also the hype. Hype is ok, up to a point, but there was a feeling that the point was overrun by several light years for the Liverpool / Manchester United match. Given that the match was such a disaster, it is hard for the writers of the promotions to regain any credibility at all.
But there are always excuses. Simon Green, the head of BT Sport, told The Guardian that we ought to take account of “the weather.”
Everything can and does have an effect – but probably the biggest effect of all, and the one the TV industry is least set up to deal with is the fact that stuff happens and things change. In short, we do not behave this year as we did last year.
Part of the reason for this is technological. Part of it is social. And both of those parts are hard to judge.
No one knows the impact of each technological change before it comes along. Each one is created to make money for its investors – without any thought on how it will change the way people behave. We might guess at such changes, but we always guess wrong. The washing machine was going to give women so much spare time they wouldn’t know what to do with it all. The TV was going to destroy the theatre and the cinema.
At the same time, everyone now ignores social trends, because for so many years people have believed that there is no such thing as society. And yet society is still there – we are all swayed by the groups of people we know, and larger social pressure.
Football in the 1970s was a tribal togetherness device for deviants and maniacs. Now it is presented as a family affair delivered to customers.
Of course there is no real worrying going on in football itself. After all, if football can be inexorably linked to the most obnoxious and corrupt organisation in the world (Fifa) while being run in England by the most inept bunch of old farts on the planet (FA), and get away with it, then what’s the problem? “We’ve got away with this for years,” is the thinking, “why should it change now?”
Such an attitude of course adds to the chance of collapse. It might seem ludicrous and impossible now, but we have had a broadcaster with TV rights go down – Setanta. The players are bigger now, but in the end they could still pull the plug.
As I say, for the clubs the problem of a major disruption to broadcasting would be a major drop in income, while the clubs have players on impossible contracts who cannot be sold on.
A slippage in that TV audience could spell disaster, and this season we are seeing a slippage in that TV audience.
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