by Tony Attwood
In the UK we get most of our football on TV via four channels: the BBC, which is free to air and covers occasional live games but mostly focusses on highlights after the match, ITV which at the moment focuses on international games, Sky and BT Sport – these last two being subscription services which offer live games.
But then along came Amazon with a new plan – cover every match over a short period live.
Now this was of interest to those of us engaged with Untold Arsenal because back in March 2015, three of us had a discussion which included the notion that it ought to be possible to have every Premier League game shown live on TV without it affecting the crowds much.
And that took a little step further forward last year when Amazon came to the League with a bid to show all the matches over a few days on their Amazon Prime channel. This being the time for getting together and similar fun (ie Christmas) I only watched one such match – the Arsenal game – but they were all there for anyone who really had nothing much else to do.
It was, in terms of British TV, a revolutionary moment, and yet within that moment something rather strange happened. Amazon, which could have made an amazing statement about how it was going to handle football in a new way, having the benefit of seeing what the other channels had done with it over the years, asked BT Sport to be its agent. So to all intents and purposes it was a BT Sport show, but shown on Amazon Prime. The chance for change was thrown away.
The programming was thus nothing other than a clear statement that said, “We think BT sport is ok in terms of the way it is packaging and showing football” or put another way, “There’s nothing new to offer”. Or indeed “Nothing new to see here. Move along move along.”
Why would they do this. Normally when one channel sets up to rival another it offers something new to attract the audience, but Amazon offered exactly the same as was happening already.
It was a clear statement that what the channels that cover football in England are doing is fine. The topics they touch on (for example, “what that handball?”) are fine. The topics they avoid (for example, “the northern referee is giving a lot more cards to the London team than he is to the northern team”) need to be avoided.
And above all the notion that there is one key vision that can be used to sum up this match and all matches that are shown is that football is great, the PL is great, and it is going to get greater and greater so we can charge you, the viewer, more and more and more to watch it. AND THERE WILL BE NO CONTROVERSY.
Thus the opportunity of bringing in a new TV company that might decide (to pick an example) to put a camera on the referee all the time, and to consider how far he is from each major decision, and keep a tally of every decision, is not going to be considered.
Nor will we have a list of the number of fouls awarded against each player, and the number of yellow against each player, and then see which referee is doing what and if it is justified.
And this is not because statistics are difficult to follow, as BT Sport has told us in the past. But because from the TV station’s point of view, there is no reason to consider the activities of the referee. They are all doing a fine job and there is no difference between them.
So I sit here and wonder: was the bid from Amazon which allowed it to get these rights, accompanied by a note that said there would be no mention of PGMO, no analysis of the referee?
In short, is there any competition of the type that we like to think normally exists. I think not.
I suspect that a fundamental part of the activity of PGMO is the suppression of the notion that anything in refereeing could ever be different. I suspect it was the first thing Amazon were told when they went to the League with their offer.
Which is interesting, because anywhere else in British industry and business, the Competition and Markets Authority would be all over this asking for an answer to the question: why are you all doing the same thing?
Because normally these ultra-competitive TV companies all seek to outdo each other. But with football, not a chance.
- How much have Arsenal’s rivals spent on transfers in recent years?
- Why is it becoming so difficult to find a sponsor for new football stadium?
- Corruption flares up again in Italy, as Premier League figures don’t look too clever
- How much does a club have to spend on transfers to get a trophy?
- Does the team that is top after 14 games usually go on to win the league?