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“If it looks like a duck”, it is said, “swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck”. Except in this case, it was a turkey and, boy, did it gobble. The Premier Sports television deal with the Blue Square Premier carried an air of absurdity about it from the very start. Not only was the league prostrating itself at the altar of mammon, moving kick-off times left, right and centre (and frequently at very short notice), but the contract signed didn’t guarantee the all of the clubs of the league any money unless “a nominal level of subscribers has been achieved”. To the surprise of nobody – with the possible exception of those that signed the deal in the first place – that “nominal level” has not been reached, meaning that revenue sharing will not be happening for the smaller clubs in the league.
It has been noted on this site before that television is, almost so incrementally as to be unnoticable, a dying medium. In addition to this, when coupled with the reduced income to be received by the Football League for next season, the notion that lower division football can make anything like a living from television rights has been taking something of a battering of late. Perhaps it is time for those that run the Blue Square Premier to take the hint and reconsider whether they should be bothering to chase the dragon of money from television contracts, because the grim truth of the matter is that it doesn’t really seem as if very many people want to watch them – at least, certainly not enough to make the idea anything like commercially viable.
We noted the potential pitfalls of this deal when it was first announced last year. Viewers could only subscribe to it if they had Sky Television access, which automatically dramatically cut the channel’s potential audience. In addition to this, live matches – and, as a result, amended kick-off times – were often announced late, which caused resentment amongst a considerable proportion of the supporters of the clubs in the league itself, which, it could certainly be argued, was an object lesson in how not to deal with the very people that, presumably, Premier Sports wished to ingratiate themselves with. After all, if the regular watchers of Blue Square Premier football couldn’t be relied upon to purchase themselves a subscription, who exactly would?
Perhaps the problem that the league has is that the quality of football in the Blue Square Premer palls in comparison with what is on offer on the television elsewhere. Tuesday night provided us with a good example of this. On Sky Sports, viewers could choose between two Champions League quarter-finals, between Chelsea & Manchester United and Shakhtar Donetsk & Barcelona. On Premier Sports, meanwhile, the option was Crawley Town vs Luton Town. Perhaps the effect of this was best seen in an attendance of 3,326, only two-thirds of the capacity of Broadfield Stadium. Was the attendance at the ground, although considerably higher than Crawley’s average this season, affected by being scheduled against a match between Chelsea and Manchester United? Well, to quantify the extent to which it was is difficult, but it’s difficult to argue that it wasn’t.
It isn’t that lower division football isn’t a very enjoyable experience. There are tens of thousands of people that will testify that it is. Under the harsh focus of television cameras, however, mistakes become more glaring and the difference in quality becomes more obvious. We argued last year that the way forward for non-league football – if it has to pay any attention to television in the first place – would have been a highlights package which might have showcased the best of what the league had to offer, as opposed to what has been tried and has failed – an attempt to market a lower league as somehow shiny alternative to the very best. Chasing the quick buck is all very well if it works, but if it fails – as this deal was always likely to – then the clubs themselves are left empty-handed and the supporters of those clubs are left angry at having been so inconvenienced for some crumbs from the altar of mammon. A little lateral thinking may have gone a long way.
The recent history of the game is pock-marked with the remains of media companies that tried and failed. ITV Digital and Setanta were the two highest-profile failures, but there have been others and the press release issued by Premier Sports seemed to hint that the company itself is running out of patience with this contract already. The televising of live football is an expensive business for a television company from a logistical point of view (which is probably the biggest single reason behind why Premier Sports’ “nominal level subscribers” was never likely to be reached). It’s all very well wondering what might happen regarding money going to the clubs, but if the television company itself is making a loss on each match, it is surely only a matter of time before the deal is quietly wound up.
If highlights would be a better way of covering non-league football, then perhaps the way forward would be for the Blue Square Premier (or, indeed, any non-league competition) to invest in a couple of half-decent cameras and put the highlights up themselves. Whether they would be able to make money from it is open to question, but the proliferation of club channels on YouTube would seem to indicate that the interest is there. Indeed, making matches available on the internet is still one area in which the Premier League lacks sophistication (matches are only legally available to stream for Sky subscribers). There is an opportunity there, if only someone can try a different approach and work to the principle that building a non-league community online could reap dividends that the ill-conceived pursuit of cash never will. The Football Conference got its fingers burnt by the collapse of Setanta Sports and it didn’t learn. Perhaps they will get the message if Premier Sports pulls the plug.
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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
“To the surprise of nobody – with the possible exception of those that signed the deal in the first place – that “nominal level” has not been reached, and the clubs of the league will not receive a penny for the televising of their matches this season.”
Sorry, but you’re wrong.
The clubs who were not shown (ie Histon) will not receive any money fro this deal. If the nominal level of subscribers was reached, they would have received some payment.
The clubs who were shown, have received revenue, depending on how many times they were/are shown, and have made money from it.
The only future for Non League TV broadcasting is the interweb; the majority of viewers are likely to be vanity viewers (people at the game wanting to see highlights) or people who would loved to have been at the game but couldn’t get there.
There might be an audience out there who might be switched on through wider exposure, but the costs of reaching that through the TV / satellite route is never likely to be economical.
The happy follow on though is that the audience to hit is resolutely local, and much better targeted through the interweb using small scale viral marketing. Non-league’s best route forward is also the one which fits its revenue profile (ie best is also cheapest).
Sadly, with a few exceptions aside, I don’t think these people are the people to deliver this:
If the landlady wins the EU Court battle to show 3pm football matches, then it will open up the possibilities to the Conference of maybe streaming 3pm kick offs, which could be quite lucrative. In the meanwhile a highlights show would probably be best, but I understand there wasnt one on the table anyway.
Cheers, Russ – have amended accordingly.
The danger for the clubs is affecting the income revenue from gate receipts. BSP clubs are still more reliant on that income than other clubs higher up the ladder. This is why I believe that highlights are the way forward – offering a taster and possibly getting bums on seats at 3.00 on a Saturday afternoon.
Any pathetic dribbling of money from TinPot TV we got is far outweighed by the cost borne by the fans who paid out for train tickets and even hotels, only to find the game changed at short notice. But screw the fans and their finances it seems: at least a few Conference clubs got an extra few thousand in their bank account.
Indeed, and angering your key audience… well, that’s crazy.
When it’s been talked about on the Non-League Show, one of the justifications given by the Conference has effectively been that with the TV coverage come additional revenues – such as advertising boards at grounds, and shirt sponsors being more interested. However this can surely only hold true if people are watching the channel to provide the extra exposure advertisers or sponsors are looking for.
One gets the feeling that in some ways this needed to happen to wake some people up to the fact that there isn’t another Setanta out there prepared to throw money at Conference Football as they did. I felt at times listening to the debate that the Conference Board found themselves under pressure to get a TV Deal, and Premier were about the only ones prepared to make an offer. That it is not a particularly worthwhile one should make those expecting even a small pot of gold from TV realise that their product is not one seen as commercially appealing…..
This season was affected by the deal being arranged so late. I think re moving games at short notice, it should be judged on next season’s performance. If PS still cannot sort their schedule in good time, then they will deserve all the ill feeling that will no doubt be mustered against them.
I always understood the BBC offered the Conference a highlights package and they turned it down in favour of premier sports as they offered more money. A very short sighted view imo.
I believe Stuart is right, the BBC offer would’ve given the league a much higher level of coverage and possibly encouraged some people to go and watch their local team. However the BSP would rather sell the rights in return for some vague promise of jam tomorrow. Idiots!
Does this not say more about the dominance of SKY tv, they have such a monopoly that no-one else is sustainable in the market. Setanta couldn’t do it and seemingly neither can premier sports
I have it on good authority from one of the Conference club’s execs that there never was a BBC deal…..
Premier Sports is owned and run by Michael O’Rourke, who also ran Setanta… no surprises there, then…