On about the 10th of March last season I phoned Sky TV and cancelled my Sports subscription. I was paying something along the line of £80 a month to watch Dave TV, the occasional thing on Sky Atlantic, Football, Golf, NFL and Horse racing.
When I actually sat down and went through where money goes each month, the amount spent on sport both watching and playing, it hit me how much I was actually spending. £960 a year on Sky. £500 a year on going to games. Over £750 a year playing golf. £500 a year at least on squash. £400 a year on the gym and at least another £500 on miscellaneous expenses, including my insistence on betting on horses with names that I connect with. Highbury Legend for instance.
That’s a lot of money. I don’t think I could ever begrudge spending that money on actually participating. I cannot expect to do that for free and I enjoy golf and squash too much to give either of them up long term.
But why do I need to pay so much to watch sports? Almost £1,000 a year to Sky Sports? Why? Supply and demand you say. To a point, yes – and therein lies the problem. Supply and demand dictates that the price of something will rise as more people wish to buy it. This is down to a number of factors: availability, cost of production, and mostly the maximum price which someone will pay for something.
Right now we see supply and demand impacting the prices of lots of things far more dramatically than they have in the past. Trainers for instance. A decent pair of trainers used to cost £70 tops, with the occasional pair (Air Max 95s) going for £110. However £110 is now an average or below-average price for new releases. Why? Because supply is limited by the manufacturers pushing up the price and an ever increasing and efficient secondary market. Autobots can buy up hundreds of pairs of trainers at once, depleting stock. These are then sold at a 200 or 300% premium on eBay. It’s called the re-sale price. It’s appalling and I blame Nike and Adidas.
But what I don’t understand is why should supply and demand affect football? Sure it’s a business now, we have to accept that. But it began as a game for everyone. Teams were formed in factories and working men’s clubs and became the focal point for a community.
Football became hugely popular, but it always remained accessible to the working man. Even up until the late 80’s. Not now. Now it costs upwards of £300 for a family of 4 to go watch Arsenal. THREE HUNDRED POUNDS. That doesn’t include travel, food and a trip to the club shop. You could be looking at £500 for a decent day out. That’s the price of a holiday for many families.
So Sky have made football exclusive. You can’t afford to go to the game so you can watch it on TV, except you can’t because that costs a fortune as well. And god forbid you want to watch a game on Saturday afternoon. That sacred 3pm Saturday time (which we will have very few of next year). No chance. No transmission of games at 3pm Saturday, it might impact the crowd at Crawley Town. Absolute nonsense.
So we have the situation where Sky and BT can quite literally charge whatever they like to the public to watch their favourite (and most hated) team on TV.
Step forward live streaming. Just as the internet has exacerbated the problem of supply and demand for luxury items driving up the prices in secondary markets, it has allowed football fans all over the world to watch their team from the comfort of their own home whenever they like. Kodi boxes and websites stream all manner of sports channels. Some for free, some more exclusive for a small monthly fee.
We love it. The scramble for streams on a Saturday when Arsenal are away at Bournemouth when there are only 2k away tickets is one of the highlights of the season. And in general you have a happy club fanbase. The 2,000 ticket holders and the 10m who watched online.
Yet the greed of the premier league, the clubs themselves and Sky have deemed this form of entertainment ‘out of bounds’. How dare we watch their product (it’s not their product by the way, it’s ours) for free?
We hear that Kodi boxes (comical how Kodi has become the term for online streams, I’m sure Kodi is only a small percentage of how people watch), are taking away subscribers from Sky. They’ve even dropped the “taking money away from grass roots games” argument, as I guess that isn’t important as Sky monies.
The problem is it’s a vicious circle. Sky needs subscribers to cover the enormous sums it pays to football clubs. Football clubs need the enormous money from Sky to pay players £300k a week. Players need £300k a week for…..sorry can’t quite explain that one!!!
And it goes back to the supply and demand argument. Yes, football is a global product that generates huge sums of money. Yes, it’s loved by many many people in many countries. Why shouldn’t it take advantage? Well perhaps it should. Perhaps it is not exempt from worldwide economic precedent. After all something is only worth what someone will pay for it.
Which leads me to the crux of my point. Up until now, the clubs and Premier League have been fairly passive about online streaming. Knowing it goes on, occasionally paying lip service to it, but largely ignoring it. Now they have gone after it aggressively. I believe this is for one reason. We are on the verge of club-owned live game-streaming. The last ten years have been an experiment by the league and clubs. How many people will pay and watch individual games on line. Now we’ve proved there is huge appetite for it, I think the time has come to shut it all down and allow each club to own its own games. It’s coming, I’m sure.
Get your replica wall clock here
Imagine Man United charged 50p per game. Say 200m people paid. That’s £100m, per game. PER. GAME. The numbers are astonishing when you actually sit down and think about it. And this is a slippery slope. Only the very big clubs will benefit. How many people will pay to watch Stoke vs Watford (no apologies to either). Money. Money. Money.
So why not reduce ticket prices, or better still: make actually going to the game free? If a club can generate even £5m per game from online streaming why do they need ticket revenue? Everyone laughed at Radiohead when they gave away their album free on the internet. I’ll be honest I don’t think I’ve paid for an album (bar on vinyl) since, so it worked. It changed music forever.
But it seems that we (hah! we, I mean them) are completely forgetting what football was originally about. A working man’s game. Played by working men for working people. The players worked. The officials worked. The fans worked. They all drunk together. Sure I accept those days have gone, but why should Sky (and sorry BT Sport have got off lightly here but I try not to think about Michael Owen) dictate what we can and cannot watch. They do not own the game. They simply do not.
And how can the Premier League and internet providers be allowed to censor the internet so I can’t watch when I either cannot get to – or cannot afford to – go to the game. It’s absolutely scandalous. Internet censoring. That’s what it is. We don’t even do that with pornography, which is freely available to children. So why Sports and in particular football?
The good news is that I think that chasing the streams will prove to be an impossible task. There will always be people who think like me and with far more skill than I, who can ensure that games are always on somewhere.
But it seems to me that we are entering a dark, dark age of football. There are two things that can be done. Allow streams to exist side-by-side with Sky and reduce ticket prices dramatically, will this ever happen? Who knows. But using the Radiohead analogy again, Hail to the Thief.