It hasn’t been a very good couple of weeks for those that would seek to make us pay through the nose to watch football on the television. The Karen Murphy court case, which was heard at the European Court of Justice a couple of weeks ago, blew away the idea that pubs should be tied into Sky’s packages if they can buy cheaper elsewhere (at least until the next round of television contracts, when it is expected that they will sold Europe-wide) and today the European Union stood in defence of consumers again with the rejection of a claim by FIFA and UEFA that they should be able to sell off the rights to some matches within tournaments.
The broadcasting laws of both Britain and Belgium make provision for “crown jewels”, by which we mean that some tournaments can be set aside to be shown on free-to-air (FTA) television. FIFA and UEFA wanted the right to be able to siphon of some matches from major tournaments to be able to sell to purely the highest bidder, but the EU has decreed that it is perfectly acceptable for tournament to be classified as a single event, and their reasoning for this makes for interesting reading:
It cannot be specified in advance – at the time when the national lists are drawn up or broadcasting rights acquired – which matches will actually be decisive for the subsequent stages of those competitions or which ones may affect the fate of a given national team.
The ruling, then, is pretty clear. For now, at least, when the “crown jewels” are considered, whole tournaments may not be split off with the most lucrative games being put behind the television paywall, but to suggest that this is some great and glorious victory for the common man might be over-egging the pudding, somewhat, because there is nothing to suggest that the “crown jewels” will be in place in perpetuity. Part of the reason why they have been in place has been because not everybody has access to digital television in Britain at present. The “digital switchover” has been ongoing in Britain since 2008 and will be complete by the end of next year. At that point, the analogue television signal will be switched off.
The Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson, has already signalled that he plans to review whether the “crown jewels” laws should remain in place after the completion of the digital switch-over and that he may favour a watering down of the law. For those that regard the relationship between the Conservative Party and Rupert Murdoch’s media empire as being rather too cosy for comfort, it hasn’t been difficult to read between the lines. Just imagine: the 2018 World Cup, live and exclusive on Sky Sports. Let’s not forget that it emerged after the bidding was completed and the tournament was awarded to Russia that the “crown jewels” law had been conceded, should England have won the bid for the tournament.
Perhaps UEFA are seeking to recover some of the money from not being able to sell the rights to the European Championships with the ticket money for this year’s Champions League Final. The ticket prices were released to the public for this year’s final at Wembley, and the tickets start at £80 for the very cheapest available. If one (or, whisper it, two) English clubs make the final of this year’s competition, it is unthinkable that the crowd will be any less than the 86,000 capacity that has been designated for the match and most supporters will not think too much of paying this amount of money for a one-off occasion, but it feels that UEFA are seeking to milk their biggest single cash cow. The 2010 final in Madrid raised £11m, but this match is set for an increase of £3m from that figure. UEFA’s Director of Competitions, Giorgio Marchetti, offered this defence:
We don’t think that the Champions League final is overpriced. We do not want to squeeze every single penny out of the market. We have to benchmark this event against other comparable events, like for example the final of the Euros and the World Cup. Last year there was already a significant increase compared to the previous editions but it’s nothing to do with being in London and it is still priced below comparable events.
If UEFA wished to “not want to squeeze every single penny out of the market”, they could have started by not making the cheapest tickets for the match £80 and it is also worth pointing out that ticketing costs such as this would make any UEFA complaints about high ticketing prices for Premier League football ring a little more hollowly than they might otherwise have done. Each of the finalists will receive an allocation of 25,000 tickets each, with 11,000 going on sale to the general public. All of this can only leave us with one conclusion: that the other 25,000 tickets will be reserved for corporates and other assorted “guests”. We shall wait and see whether that familiar red stripe of empty seats that always seems to be present when the second half of a match at Wembley kicks off is present.
We know that money is important – we really don’t need to be reminded of this – but one of the principles of the support that many continue, whether misguidedly or not, to hold for the likes of FIFA and UEFA is the hope amongst hope that they will defend the ordinary supporter from the worst, most avaricious aspects of the game. When they go, hand in hand, to the European Union in an attempt to cream of the best of the biggest competitions in the naked pursuit of money, we can only wonder whether they’re just as bad as everybody else. FIFA’s motto is “For The Good Of The Game”. UEFA’s is “We Care About Football”. It’s difficult not to look at them this evening and wonder they are either losing or have lost sight of these.
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