The Premier League Scores A Penalty Against Football Fans:

The beautiful game has been turned, by the people who run it, into the greedy game”. That was how the Sunday Times, in an outspoken editorial on 11th October, lambasted the decision by the Premier League, Sky Sports and BT Sport to charge £14.95 each time to watch matches that they had not originally scheduled for transmission. It then cited Henry Winter, the chief football writer for it’s sister newspaper,“The Times”, as fulminating that £5 would be acceptable but that the proposed amount was “disgraceful and disgusting”. Precisely while Premier League clubs have been spending £1.2bn on buying players (declared Winter) and have handed £200 million over to agents, many families have been struggling to survive: “This truly stinks”.

The Guardian correspondent, Paul MacInnes, the previous day depicted the announcement as a public relations debacle, particularly as many fans have not only already paid for standard subscriptions to these two broadcasters but also for season tickets for their seats in the stadia which have been suspended due to the pandemic.

The Sunday Times also admonished the Premier League for having (in its opinion) become “adept at squeezing money out of fans”, for example by changing strip designs every year, which dedicated supporters feel they have to acquire in order to keep up to date.

The new levy has provoked widespread disapproval from both opposition politicians and several well-known ex-players – including BBC TV’s “Match Of The Day” presenter, Gary Lineker and the former Manchester United right-back, now Sky Sports pundit, Gary Neville.

The Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) has urged BT Sport and Sky Sports to reconsider the prices and for Gary Caffel, the utilities editor at MoneySavingExpert.com (reports MacInnes), it’s tantamount to treating fans as “cash cows”, since they either have to be prepared to fork out the extra amount or miss watching their club in action.

According to another the Sunday Times journalist, Dipesh Gadher, in a separate report on the controversy in the publication’s 11th October edition, the critics not only believe the charge is “too high” but that “it will encourage people to gather in households and pubs to watch the matches together”, hence spreading the virus.

The condemnation, however, has not been completely unanimous. The polemical contributor to the Spectator magazine and the Sunday Times, Rod Liddle, though acknowledging that, for him, the games have a feel of practice kick-arounds, an atmosphere of pointlessness and lack a communal experience, is mystified by the fury which has been aroused. He doesn’t consider the tariff to be unreasonable: “Someone has to pay for the football we’re all watching and I would prefer it to be the fans rather than the taxpayer”. The first “pay-per-view” games – Chelsea v Southampton (BT) and Newcastle v Manchester United (Sky) were shown on Saturday 17th October.

So why has the Premier League taken the risk of offending the fans? That’s because, John Purcell, the co-founder of the financial analysis firm Vysyble, explained to theathletic.co.uk website, many of the clubs are in a terrible economic state and their accounts are lamentable. They are in a precarious situation, just like any other sector that depends on people being able to go out, congregate and spend freely.

Kieran Maguire, a lecturer on football finance at the University of Liverpool and the author of “The Price Of Football” concurs, emphasising that Premier League clubs have higher fixed costs – mainly wages and transfer instalments – than the rest of the entertainment industry and that they rely on the broadcasters for 60% of their income. Hence, any reduction in this would have a significant adverse impact.

Indeed, sportspromedia.com has noted that the Premier League has already had to reimburse £330 million to its broadcast partners as a result of the delayed conclusion to the 2019/20 season, with some clubs deferring part of that refund in order to spread the cost. The global consultancy Deloitte , observes theathletic website, estimated prior to the onset of the current crisis that PL clubs would earn £5.25 billion during the 20/21 season, £2 billion more than the Bundesliga and La Liga combined, but that their salary commitments would be twice those of German clubs and 50% more than Spanish ones.

Among the highest-paid footballers in England now are Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur: £600,000 per week, 50% of which is being paid by Real Madrid); Mesul Osil (Arsenal: £350,000 pw); Raheem Sterling (Manchester City: £300,000 pw); Paul Pogba (Manchester Utd: £290,00 pw); N’Golo Kante (Chelsea: also £290,000 pw).

Deloitte statistics show that eleven PL clubs made pre-tax losses in 2018/2019, the worst being Chelsea (£101.8m) and Everton (£107m), yet Chelsea still spent over £200m on transfer fees this summer (funded by owner Roman Abramovich) and Everton 67.50m.

In an interview with theathletic.co.uk, Dr Stefan Szymanski, author of “Soccernomics” and a sports management lecturer at the University of Michigan, pointed out that “the Premier League has been giving people round the world what they want for nearly 30 years. But now, for reasons beyond its control, it cannot. And also because it has been perhaps a little too generous with its players and their representatives”. It’s likely that most fans these days will agree wholeheartedly with this last observation.

Filed under: Sports | Posted on October 20th, 2020 by Colin D Gordon

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