Premier League Chairmen, players and their agents are no doubt celebrating the new TV deal that gives the PL a combined £3 billion from Sky and BT for three years, starting in 2013. What about the rest of us? Good news? Although Sky can easily soak up the cost from its millions of subscribers, I doubt they were too keen to pay £2.28bn for their share (up from £1.62bn), but were forced into it by BT deciding to enter the marketplace and pay a completely absurd £738m for just 38 games. Not even the best games, either. Maybe it’s a good thing for football that someone challenges Sky, or maybe it’s not. Maybe it really makes no difference if Sky run the show. Investors didn’t seem to think that paying such a vast sum was clever, because shares in both companies dropped sharply when it was announced.
What might annoy a lot of people is that BT prefer to put three-quarters of a billion pounds into an already bloated Premier League when half the country can’t get a decent broadband connection. Perhaps as a nation we should put more effort into building a decent infrastructure rather than trying to create wealth out of air, or putting morons in charge who think they have ‘abolished boom and bust’ before presiding over the biggest bust in history. BT’s decision makes me long for the days of nationalised industries.
Does the Premier League really need this money? What will it do with it? Make things better for fans by lowering ticket prices and investing in comfier seats and better service? Free beer and replica jerseys for all? I doubt it.
Last season Man City got £60m as their share of the TV pot; under the new deal the bottom club will get more than that. At the moment Man City pay their players more than anyone else does. Give everyone else more money and they will all pay their players more. But Man City have unlimited funds, so they’ll pay more again – if they can squeeze it past FFP regulations with a sponsorship deal for the bloke who mans the barrier at the car park. More money means bigger wages and more for agents, no one else benefits. If a dribble of the extra money filters elsewhere it will just have the effect of turning the game even more into a glossy corporate show rather than anything attached to a community. Change is inevitable, but I think we’ve gone far enough down that road. In the last 20 years the average ticket price for a PL match has increased 1,100%, which hardly seems necessary when they get so much more from other sources now.
Amazingly in Germany, where the ownership of clubs is much more tilted towards supporters than selfish billionaires, ticket prices are far lower for a very good quality product. Someone sent me a link the other day to a video of Dortmund fans, assisted by their club, doing some highly impressive shows of support in various ways, with flags, different coloured cards and so on. It made Arsenal’s efforts with the Red Section and a few banners look pathetically puny. No offence to RedAction and other fans who make an effort, but I’d urge you to seek out the video. They’re on a different level. German players are still far richer than average Germans of course, but clearly having more and more money in the game doesn’t lead to more and more benefit for everyone. You don’t need £3bn to have a good time.
Imagine the benefit if the 20 Premier League clubs got together and said, “All this extra money is brilliant, but let’s do something for the fans. Let’s put all the extra into reducing ticket prices; we’ll be as well off as before, none of us gains or loses any advantage. All we do is calculate the extra amount we get and knock it off what we expect to receive through gate money. Everyone can benefit.” Arsenal make about £100m a year from gate receipts; if they get an extra £25m a year from this deal, which is likely, they can knock 25% off ticket prices. And this is before the overseas deals are renegotiated, so it could easily be another £20m on top of that (Sporting Intelligence have done some great analysis here). Many of the other clubs are much more reliant on TV money as a far bigger proportion of their total income, so they could reduce ticket prices far more. At some clubs they’d almost be letting people in free. Imagine the goodwill. Imagine the atmosphere as every ground is packed solid for every match.
Obviously it won’t happen. The big clubs are too greedy and the smaller clubs are too desperate to try and hang on to the big ones. So the money will go where it has increasingly gone. By the end of the new TV deal in 2016 I’m sure we’ll have seen the first half a million pounds a week player. And people said Brian Clough was mad when he paid £1m for a player in 1979. I don’t care how much money there is in football, but I do care that increases in it never mean any benefit for supporters. It’s almost enough to make me say, “I want my Arsenal back.”