by Christophe Jost
The fallout of the pandemic is far from clear, we have no idea how bad it will be, yet there are some things that will change forever. Like there was a before and after 9/11, or a before and after Bosman. Football will never be the same.
Untold appears to be the only media outlet in the UK actually thinking about football. Thinking is free – so we can do that, access to Untold is free. No subscriptions or anything like that. Thinking means not parroting other people’s comments, not day-dreaming, not taking your readers for idiots.
And so we have started to think about what the world of football is going to look like, as our articles from the past few weeks have shown.
Now, as you are aware after reading our reports, every European league is handling the crisis differently. And if we are to believe what is published about the PL, well it just seems like the PL is doing the opposite of everyone else: the PL is not handling it at all.
Which when you consider the utter magnitude of competence in management the PL and the FA are supposed to have, is not surprising. Maybe someone told them that doing nothing was less dangerous than even thinking about doing something?
Then again, that someone would have been right when one considers the strings of repeated successes the management of the biggest football league in the world and its Football Association has scored since it started. If you are not aware of them, here is a short list:
- Failed World Cup bid which cost a fortune to put in and got two votes
- Charity Shield, shut down because it broke basic UK charity law
- Child abuse scandals across multiple clubs, still mostly unresolved
- PGMOL: utterly secret, utterly different from the rest of Europe
- Wembley Stadium, over budget
- Manager who lasted one match before promising to fake sheikhs to break the law
Shall we stop here? And on the player side, their union is very efficient in paying its manager royally, which I guess from his point of view makes a lot of sense. As for competence, well, how long has this crisis been going on and what have we heard from the players’ union? My advice to every player: run from it and get together with your teammates to negotiate.
Now, when you prepare yourself for a new home, a new job, a new life, you try to imagine all elements of it. You plan. You get ready.
So, let us look at the different elements of the landscape that may appear before us in a few months.
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Football for the past few decades has been burning its basic fuel without end. Living from hand to mouth (except Bayern Munich and Arsenal during the Wenger years and maybe a few other rare clubs). Like a coke addict waiting for the next snort. The merry-go-round organised around two transfer windows animated and organised by agents interested in taking money from each side and from multiplying transactions, as the rest watch like rabbits, doing what rabbits do.
The bubble appeared in full daylight when it became clear that some clubs were actually borrowing on future revenue. Untold wrote about it, commented it; a lone voice in the desert.
Money comes from several sources, primarily… matchday revenue, licencing, player transactions and finally TV revenue. Over the years, TV revenue has grown so wildly out of proportion that most of the 20 PL clubs appear in the list of 40 richest clubs in the world.
That relatively easy money has perverted the whole economics of football in Europe. A few clubs in each league, always present in the CL, earn 30 or 40 millions more than other clubs in their national league, year after year. This widens the gap inexorably to a point where in most European leagues, the championship has turned into a competition between two or maybe three clubs. In August 2018 Untold predicted who would win the League in six different countries at the end of that season, and got every one of them right. Not because we were clever but because it was so blindingly obvious.
Basically, one can compare TV money to matchday revenue. Broadcasters are selling season tickets for games and are earning some money from advertising. Virtual stadia, this is what it is.
Not only has football become dependent on TV money, TV has become dependent on football. In Germany, if Sky were to not get the next TV contract, there is talk the company might even collapse, as the subscriber loss would be so massive. So some TV broadcasters are totally dependent on games being available in their drive to get subscribers.
Betting is a big financier of football. So much that clubs belong to betting companies, stadia have their names, and shirts carry their logos. My bet? Betting is done. The industry is dying and no one will come to its aid. At some point it will revive because people love to bet…but for now, unless they take bets on which clubs go bust first, or which player goes back to college first to learn a new trade, they have no ‘material’ anymore.
Which in turn means the PL loses, just from this industry, hundreds of millions in revenue streams across the PL and Championship.
Interestingly, in Europe, there is no professional player association that really wields influence as is the case in US sports. Or in tennis. In the US, the NFL owners have to renegotiate the base conditions with the players’ union and sometimes strikes do happen. Same thing in basketball, baseball or ice hockey. In this most capitalist of countries, unions are an important element, and, as a consequence, player revenue and protection are optimised.
In Europe, it is each player for himself. Can’t say I’ve read much about their activities and victories for the players they represent. Which, I think, is just fine for the owners and clubs. Better to have the players as individuals then as a group backed by a powerful union. Interestingly, in this continent where social advances started, the players are in a rat race. Just the opposite situation from that in America.
Some players are helping actively, but what do we know? The press does not do its job and reports on just a few individuals, whereas I am sure there are many more players adopting a humane vision. Or I ought to say I hope….
The broadcasters used to be TV stations. Then came satellite/cable TV providers, and finally streaming services.
Each new actor brought more money to the table because their capacity to reach spectators was bigger than the predecessor.
So audiences widened, revenue skyrocketed and along with it, everything else went up: player salaries, agent commissions, marketing revenue, ticket prices, number of games, squad sizes, betting activity.
Broadcasters find themselves in the situation of a restaurant that has already sold out its next 365 evenings, and whose dining hall has just been condemned as unfit for purpose by health authorities. No meals to serve, a full staff to pay and customers wanting a refund.
And I am not even starting to talk about Bein. These guys are in deep trouble, even if they have deep oil wells. But their oil has just dipped so much that in the course of three months, it has lost two-thirds of its value (from above $60/barrel to barely above $20 a barrel).
Bein pretty much took over every sport available on all continents to feed it’s satellite channels. It sure has movies etc, but sports is their calling card. And now they’ve got no content anymore, or to be precise, they are losing content on a daily basis, from east to west as the pandemic closes down one country after the other.
Sure, they have deep pockets. As have Emirates… but how deep… ?
I am making a distinction here: fans are those coming to the game for the love of the game and the passion of the club. Not spectators coming to see a show.
Fans were the first spectators. And with each new broadcasting evolution, they become a smaller proportion of spectators and of revenue. And in the end, many feel they are just being robbed of their time, money and intelligence.
Organisations in England
There was a time when sports bodies were something one could look to. Just read the piece on the participation of the UK at the Moscow games that was on the Guadian the other day.
Yet, with the staggering amounts of money football was starting to generate, football organisations became a sort of laundromat for ambition, greed and corruption. As in all things human, the more money, the more greed, hubris and self-serving. The consequence is always a loss of competence, with incompetence encroaching all levels of an organisation. Just to make the point, even Germany has had its share of that, with the attribution of the WC 2006 being played out in front of the courts because of corruption.
Yet, clearly, England, the FA and the PL in that regard, are probably world leaders not at corruption but at incompetence. So incompetent they are not even corrupt. Just to make the point, I’ll repeat the shortlist: failed World Cup bid, Charity Shield, England managers, kids abuse, PGMOL, Wembley stadium, the one game manager….
These bodies however are negotiating with broadcasters for huge amounts of money. Sure they represent the clubs or federations, but then, when all the world wants to see games, it ain’t complicated to sell. Now that the money-flow has stopped, it is going to be a totally different story.
That which calls itself the press is basically the same body that reports on royals (and sometimes on politics), using the same tactics, the same manipulative methods and showing no respect for its readers.
Reading them, one wonders how come scandals were unearthed in England these past 25 years. The sheer lack of curiosity, of critical sense, of actual fact-based reporting is AWOL. Where are the investigative pieces of journalism about football? Mainstream is fantasy reporting. These writer ought not to have a press card but a fantasy press card.
Can you imagine that there has been NO story on how players in the PL are dealing with the pandemic? I mean with some interviews across the teams and the country, with an interview of the player union boss? I mean, the PLAYERS, you know, those guys running after what is called a football on a grass surface…. Nothing serious.
Clubs and their social anchoring
Just reading what Spurs are doing makes one sick. Just get the taxpayer to pay the salaries of ground zero victims – the employees. Or when Liverpool pretty much did the same and had the utter nerve to say they were sending the stewards to help stores for free.
Compared to the response of many clubs in Germany, Italy, Spain, this is just ridiculous. On the other hand it just shows the incredible disconnect between the clubs and their environment. Some smaller clubs are doing something. The big ones are just coronawashing their ridiculous gestures.
The thing is, fans are not stupid and see the damage to their city, to their local businesses. Will they have any reason to support any bailout or plea for help?
UEFA and FIFA
Both these organisations are in deep deep trouble. The gravy train has just stopped and will not resume its course. Their independence, bought by money, has disappeared and governments will not behave according to their priorities.
Their survival may not be at stake, they’ll still be useful in the future, but their revenue stream has stopped, their usefulness in the crisis is nil, and, worst of all, as an ‘actor’ helping societies they have failed miserably and are useless.
Their power lies with the national federations and these are now fighting for their own survival so not much of a collaborative effort possible there.
Add to that, in FIFA’s case, that money was the way to make sure things went according to plan. And money has just run out. And that corruption perverted the whole system. At some points even the lawyers protecting them will stop doing it for lack of money.
And this bug has to be mentioned. We know so little of it. One positive thing, it seems not to evolve very much if I believe reports. So that stability will make it easier to get a vaccine developed. But until then, it is a threat to health systems, it can spread like the plague and most probably will stay around for a while.
And this disruption in sports leads to total annihilation. Even if all PL players, coaches, medics, and other supporting staff were healthy on day 1 of its start, if just one person in a few thousand tests positive, that team, the last team they played in the past 2 weeks, and the teams they themselves played…well I’ll stop there. It is at present from a epidemics point of view impossible to predict that playing even behind closed doors, even if all players were to live apart from the world along with supporting staff.
Unless all players are shipped to Antarctica and stay there to play indoors for the whole of next season, there will be no next season… or we find a vaccine.
For more then a decade, Untold has been talking of all the subjects that the ‘Kommentariat’ are considering as off-side. And has repeatedly predicted events before the public or even actors were aware of them (FIFA arrests in Switzerland to state just one). It has invented vocabulary and concepts that ended up being adopted (yet without any credits…) by the so called press: rotational fouling, reffymandering, to name but two.
For weeks now, we have kept on giving you a perspective no other football outlet has given. But then, it is the thing we love to do. And it is for free.
On the horizon, seen from the beach, there is this tsunami wave that is approaching. It is the result of an eruption. The first fallout saw all games cancelled, stadia closed and football brought to a standstill. Seismometers are registering tremors, a storm is brewing and invaders are at the door. This is pretty much what is hitting the world of football now. Remember Pompeï ?
Now, you may say we are being pessimistic, we are painting the devil on the wall or are scaring the living daylights out of our readers… well the fact is that any politician who belittled this pandemic has blood on his hand. That has gone from bad to worse. That pretty much half of humanity is on some form of lockdown and that it will even get worse.
These are facts we can read all over the world. Not some kind of politico thriller written by Steven King.
Yet somehow, we hope that someday soon, we’ll be watching the opening game of the next season, will be cheering for our team, will want to share the moment with kids, friends, fathers.
Nature is showing us fascinating examples of resilience. We humans have resilience as well. Inventions will come, methods will be devised. Efforts will be done together or not. But we believe that this pandemic will come to pass and our world will enter an new age.
It will be up to each of us to make sure this new age is better than the one which we see dying in front of our eyes.
We hope that in terms of football, of reporting, you will have a better understanding of what has been going on all these years and will want to be better informed. And that you won’t accept to be taken for idiots anymore.
Those were the days my friend…we thought they’d never end…