In 2014, something extraordinary happened.
Football clubs acquired more revenue from broadcasters than from those that came through the turnstiles. This tectonic shift has seen a culture change in the way fans interact with their beloved football team. Let’s explore how this has happened in four ways.
First of all, it is now the TV producers that dictate the essence of the
match product. Second, how the increasing influence of foreign stake holders, in particular the USA, have affected football. Third, how the away fan is being exploited. Fourth, and finally, how the increasing celebrity nature of the sport means that people like everything about football except the actual football.
How the Medium became the Message
The first issue, is perhaps the most well documented complaint from Premier League fans – and there is a stark difference between a fan and a follower. If you are a season ticket holder, and are committed to attending all of your cherished team’s games, then changing the date and time of fixtures to maximise broadcasting viewers can be immensely frustrating.
Travelling on Mondays and Fridays to away games may not be possible due to work, Sundays are the most expensive day to use public transport, and all of these are moved at the discretion of the boardrooms at Sky and BT. As the evergreen Tim Stillman notes, the tail is wagging the dog.
Foreign Stakeholders’ Increasing Influence
NBCSN (American) coverage of the Premier League is absolutely stunning. Every single game is broadcasted live, score updates are unobtrusively ticker-taped across the top right of the screen with bite size highlights from around the league at half and full time. Since NBC bought rights back in 2013 for $83 million a season, to fill the Saturday morning void in Sport for the US, various initiatives can be suggested to be in consideration to the American viewer.
Examples of this is include the crackdown in abusive language (which does not sit well with pre-midday Americans), focus of time-wasting (that is just dull), and possible introduction of water breaks (to add more commercial breaks).
In South America it is not uncommon to have business jingles played for each goal kick. One need only to look at the commercially saturated NFL for a forecast of where things are heading.
The Value of Away Fans
When the Premier League recently announced that Away fans must be placed in a pitch-side section of each stadium, you would think that it was purely in order to give them better access to the pitch. Whilst that is true, the reality is that the passion that away fans show is so optically satisfying that broadcasters would be foolish to ignore it. Overseas audiences have indicated that the passion of the English fans is a key reason it is so highly valued.
Think back to when there was discussion about having a 39th game in the season, to be played abroad. Reports are that the idea was quashed because the local setting was considered such an integral part of the Premier League experience. Initiatives such as fan parks have been seen as better ways to market the Premier League brand overseas.
Everything about Football, except the Football
The way that football is consumed by fans have changed permanently. How rare is it that fans go to every game, purchase a season ticket, and have a pie at half time? Instead, the modern day football fan will be scrolling through Twitter whilst glancing up occasionally to check of any flash points.
Pre-game discussions are dominated by hashtags and story lines. Think of Mourinho vs Wenger, and Man City as the noisy neighbours.
How many people’s eyeballs engage with Ray Winston informing you of the latest Bet365 odds for the game is now more important than attendance figures.
Hashtags are topics of discussion and the subtleties of the game are lost in the maelstrom of social media.
The commercial juggernaut of the Premier League is not likely to slow down. However, if this is at the expense of the fan and (god forbid) the actual Football, then perhaps it has gone to far.