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When Setanta Sports went belly up during the summer of 2009, it left the Blue Square Premier in something of a bind. There was talk of this being a repeat of the ITV Digital disaster of 2002, when the collapse of a broadcaster left a large number of Football League clubs in serious trouble having already spent money that they hadn’t yet received. The BSP got off relatively lightly. A donation from the Premier League managed to cut the losses of most of its member clubs last season, and during the summer there has been something of a buzz on the subject of what a new television deal might look like.
Today the answer to this question was made public, and the answer to this question was… not very inspiring. The Blue Square Premier has signed a deal with the broadcaster Premier Sports, which was founded by Michael O’Rourke, a former part-owner of Setanta, in 2009 to broadcast Irish sports that had fallen off the radar of British broadcasters following the collapse of Setanta. The deal is for thirty matches per season to be broadcast per season for the next three years, wth Premier Sports and the Football Conference sharing profits after “a nominal level of subscribers has been achieved”. It will be interesting to find out what number counts as “a nominal level of subscribers” because, unless that number is exceptionally low it is difficult to imagine that anybody is going to make any money at all out of this at all.
There are so many aspects of this television deal that feel wrong that it’s difficult to know where to start. Firstly, the service will only be available to viewers that already have Sky. This fails on several different levels. Firstly, it only reaches around nine million households, limiting the number of people that could subscribe to it if they wanted to. Secondly, the fact that it is on the Sky platform means that they will be broadcasting to subscribers that will largely already paying for Sky Sports, and quite possibly for ESPN as well. The subscription price will be £6.99 per month – will people really pay this much more on top of their existing subscriptions? It seems at best unlikely.
Next, there is the issue of value for money. On the face of it, £6.99 per month seems affordable for a sports channel subscription, but it has been confirmed that only thirty matches per season will be shown live, meaning that a maximum of of only four (or at a push five) matches per month will be shown live on the channel per month. Suddenly, it all starts to sound like much less of a bargain, especially when we consider that, with Blue Square Premier (and lower) football, a large proportion of the people that would be interested enough in a specific match to tune in and watch it live will already be going to the match. Will, say, Newport County supporters pay for live coverage of Darlington vs Mansfield Town? It seems unlikely.
Indeed, in some respects, it feels as if supporters of BSP clubs will be the biggest losers in the whole deal. The full roster of matches for the next couple of months is expected in the next few days, but we already know that the first match will be between Grimsby Town and Luton Town on the 4th of September at 5.15 in the evening. Kicking off two and a quarter hours later will make the logistics of getting home, for Luton supporters, very difficult indeed, but will Luton supporters subscribe to the channel instead? It seems unlikely, if the broadcasters bear the brunt of resentment at the changing of the kick-off time. The net result could be that Grimsby lose out because a large travelling support (and the attendant revenue boost) doesn’t head to Cleethorpes because they can’t get home and Luton lose out for exactly the same reason. It seems likely that there will be plenty more “inventive” changing of kick-off times to follow, as well.
Much of the logic behind this arrangement seems stem from a belief that they can build up a large subscriber base, but even what would seem on the surface like an impossibly large take up of, say, 20,000 people would bring in around £700,000 to the Blue Square Premier per season, which would (if evenly divided) work out at slightly under £30,000 per season per club. And that number seems a high estimate of the potential audience on a regular basis. Perhaps the future of televising the BSP (and other such leagues below it) lies in highlights rather than live matches. The overwhelming majority of people that want to watch live BSP matches will be at those matches. A highlights package, which would bring people up to date each week at a time that was suitable for the very people that would be interested in such a programme, would seem to make sense, but the Football Conference doesn’t seem to have thought in the slightest bit laterally about this.
Last summer, The Football Conference, with pound signs rotating in their eyes, chose not to bother with this when the BBC offered to put up a highlights package for them, yet the publicity that the league would have received from such a deal would have boosted the profile and the credibility of the league inestimably, as well as potentially bringing in more money from sponsorship. As it stands, however, the BSP will be tucked away on a niche channel on a pay-TV platform, and it is difficult to see who will be watching. Most people would have been forgiving of the league if a large amount of guaranteed money had been the reward for messing around with the match schedule and kick-off times and asking people to pay £6.99 per month, but it seems unlikely that this will be the case, and we are left to consider just how good the BBC’s coverage of the Football League has been and how this could have been extended into the Blue Square Premier.
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.
Perhaps Eurosport would have been interested in Conference football? After all they have decades of experience with sports with limited watchers, and most Sky viewers would not have had to pay an extra fee.
Don’t forget, several conference clubs have already sorted out their own online channels. For example, York City’s is £30/season at:
What will happen to those with this new deal? Will the new deal make more or less money than this existing venture? I would hazard a guess of ‘less’…
The kick off time for the Grimsby game has been put back 2 and a half hours it was meant to be 7.45pm so infact the broadcaster is helping luton fans.
Don’t forget, the sponsorship deals, image rights, advertising and such will all have increased revenue for each club as a result of the club being on television a few times extra each year. For this to increase you don’t even need many appearances. highlights, clips and syndication all are beneficial. Granted, we’re not talking samsung/chelsea levels of cash here, but it would be an increase nonetheless. Plucking a figure out of the air, I’m guessing you can double that 30k on this basis.
On top of all that, you might find more bums on seats at games as a result of the increased coverage on telly. little lads asking their dads to take them to their local game after catching an exciting match on telly, etc.
Its a step down a more organised capitalist approach to association football as well. perhaps more marketing/advertising/pr/sales businesses will be more keen to eek as much money out of the potential of the non-leagues, if we can get 15-20k people subscribed? not saying that doesn’t come with its own unique problems, but it should mean more money for the clubs in the literal and immediate sense.
In a world where everyone is pessimistic about the future of non-league football, i’ll give this my utmost support as its at least something that can create opportunities to bring money and publicity to grass roots footie.
I think the reason the Blue Square Premier are only going to get any money out of this after a ‘nominal’ level of subscribers has been reached is so they’re not burned in the same way they were by Setanta. This system means that any money received from the TV deal is basically a bonus for the league on top of some added publicity. Instead of having the situation where clubs have already spent the money they don’t end up getting. However, I’m in complete agreement with you that a highlight programme would be a much better idea.
I already have a Sky Sports package for the football,but I miss so many games as I’m returning home after watching a live Non-League game.
Because of this I’m unlikely to pay £6.99 a month to miss even more games. If it was on a Pay Per View basis then I might be interested for selected games, probably to record.
Whinge whinge whinge
I have to say we are always too quick of the mark to see negatives when deals like this are struck. People complained there was no coverage, now they say there is no money in it for the clubs. The next thing that only the big teams will be covered and the times changed.
It is very easy to take this line and be negative, but there is some good to be had from this. Clubs will have coverage that did not before. Money will come in that was not there before both from subscriptions and advertising. I will be amazed if they stick to 30 games if plenty of people take this offer up. I think £6.99 is fair enough. If people support a team in the league then why not ditch ESPN at £12 for 23 average EPL games and take up their first preference sport. The channel is clearly not trying to attract a GAA, NRL and BS fan. They have niche sports that cover different times of year. I think we should try and get behind this. If the channel is a success then Virgin will be forced to add the station to it’s platform.
£6.99 is cheaper than a pack of fags and only £1 more than a month’s subscription to the non-league newspaper. I know what I would rather have. Less chance of cancer, less chance of reading rubbish and more chance of seeing a good proper game of football for £5 less than ESPN a month. I for one, am cancelling ESPN and taking up Premier Sports. I wish them the best of luck.
If 10% of the average home gate of each conference club subscribes (highly unlikely as many attendeesare from the same family or don’t have Sky), you’d have about 4,600 subscribers at £7 a time = £386,400. Divide this by the 30 live games and you get £12,880 per match. This would not even cover the cost of the satellite link to beam the match back from the ground to the studio!! If I were running a BSP club, I would opt out if I could as the loss of income on a matchdaywill be more than the likely income from TV (nil) and no-one is going to pay extra to advertise pitch-side if there are only 4,600 subscribers!
If I could access this on digital terestrial TV, then I would subscribe. I used to enjoy Setanta’s live and highlights packages. But to limit the service to sky subscribers only is pretty damn useless.
The details of the agreement are so opaque, its hard to decide if the clubs will get any money at all. Even 10K or 20K would be a godsend to my club (Histon).
What if the BBC had a subscription sports based channel (£6.99) which featured just irish and conference football, would the moaners pay for that?
I have a few friends that are fickle fans of my local team, they generally think the matchday programme should be no more than £1 and entry a fiver. My team is in conference national!
If any of the current conference sides got into the premiership, they would be having to pay ESPN and Sky Sports to see their team.
Another interesting thing, looking at forums is that fans are moaning that highlights of their games on their website will be delayed until after Premier have shown them. Those with a short memory can be reminded that Setanta did the same thing.
What if (as I’ve been told) that the BBC offered nothing except highlights, would you prefer that over 30k per club by going with Premier?
Get a life and support the fact that the conference will have more coverage now than it has had and there is an oportunity for those same clubs to receive more funds.
Protests of not supporting Premier under this deal means you are screwing your own clubs by denying them a part of the 50% share. Any fans of clubs that subsequently go out of business then only themselves to blame.
This is non-league, level 5 football we’re talking about. With saturation football coverage on TV already, who’s really intersted? And I’m talking as someone whose team is in this league! A highlights package would be great but 90 minutes of some of our dirge, never mind anyone else’s, is a bit much.
The deal is reliant on a “nominal” number of (additonal?) subscribers before clubs get any money. Yeah, right; the Conf wallahs have done us proud. A minority, subscription satellite channel no-one has ever heard of (ex pat Gaelic footall/hurling and Aussie RL fans excepted) and with no realistic chance of expanding their audience will end up costing clubs money.
When will the Conf chiefs and the patronising types from higher up the food chain realise that the ONE good thing about non-league football is not having to cow-tow to TV companies screwing around with the fixures.
This is a lose-lose deal, shame.
well im glad that luton will be on tv so the people of york and others who hate us will be able to suffer watching them lose to the hatters COYH!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I think they might have considered a pay per view option, of say £10 per match.
[…] noted the potential pitfalls of this deal when it was first announced last year. Viewers could only subscribe to it if they had […]
Great article and I agree a highlights show would be much better. The problem however would be getting enough high quality footage to make a program.
Even league football and Premieship rugby strugle to do this. They often resort to just one camera in the middle.
Plus, I suspect running one camera at 10+ games is substantially more expensive then 3-4 cameras at just 1 game.
Also, 20,000 subscribers is very high. From industry numbers across other sports, I suspect at best the number of potential subscribers is no more then 2-4,000. The actual penetration rate for paid-for online TV/highlights outside of Sky Sports is very low in the UK.
Re the money. Their is a second important point to consider.
The money raised from TV is not the most important point here and I suspect the TV deal was never motoviated by money – from this deal.
It was in fact motivated from its affect on other deals.
I suspect Blue Square and other league partners would negotiate a much lower fee without a TV deal in place. I know I would.
So the money earned from TV is low, but this has a significant effect on other sponsorship deals. Without it the overall income the league can generate for clubs would be much lower.
So in conclusion the league must do TV, and due to the economics of online paid for TV, they must do it as cheaply as possible.
Hope my point is helpful. Great website.