It’s been another tumultuous week in the history of the Premier League. A week that was supposed to be a quiet one for club’s with the international fixtures taking away attention and giving everyone a break, has instead left a void filled by the news of the league’s new pay per view scheme.
This scheme is pretty indefensible. Especially given that most if not all its clubs have yet to pay their season ticket holders back the cash that they have already paid for 2020/21 season tickets which they most likely will never use. The last thing Brighton and Hove Albion said on the matter prior to the PPV scandal forcing a rethink was that they would use the amounts already paid for games which they could not attend to be credited against tickets bought next season’s, presumptuous you might say. Then asking those same fans to fork over more cash to watch games on TV seems far from best practice.
I’ve seen some suggest that this is a case of Premier League Club’s misreading the room, but let’s be honest they’re not even in the room with us humble football supporters. They haven’t been for a long time and yet so many of us still lap up all and sundry that they’ve throw at us and part with our hard earned cash for it.
But in a time of great economic uncertainty and mass redundancies, this scheme is at best insensitive. But let’s be honest, this kind of scheme has been coming for a while. Just this week The Athletic discussed in a recent article the potential for the launch of an online streaming service by the Premier League to allow fans to watch all its games for a monthly subscription, which many describe as an inevitability. And if they did that, I suspect many of us would subscribe parting with yet more hard earned cash.
The reality is unlike in other countries like Germany where football supporters have used organised protests and boycotts of games to limit and restrict TV broadcasters influence on their domestic game at the expense of increased revenue, English football is well past that point.
For decades English domestic football has become more and more reliant on TV broadcasting revenue, so much so that the Premier League’s project restart back in June was described by Culture, Media and Sport minister Oliver Dowden as important to “relieve the pressure on all other clubs [throughout the football pyramid]”.
And with this seemingly ever-increasing stream of TV broadcasting revenue has come ever-increasing player wages and transfer fees. Something us fans have often revelled in and encouraged rather than disgusted in the excess of. So much so that transfer deadline day has become a biannual celebration of the absurdity of the excesses that is the Premier League.
So it’s worth suggesting to all those who were expressing great vocal pressure on their club’s to sign a new player this summer and are now expressing such righteous disapproval over the greed and excess of Premier league club’s and this new PPV scheme, maybe you’re part of the problem?
Take Gary Neville for example, the Sky Sports pundit who’s spent much of 2020 complaining of his old club Man United’s lack of investment in a new defender, despite them having spent nearly £200m on existing recruits. Or Brighton fansite “We Are Brighton” and their motley crew of the growing Albion-Twitterati, who’ve spent an equal amount of time this year denouncing the clubs transfer policy for not spending big amounts of money on a proven striker.
After all, how do you think they’re paying for this at times absurd and deplorable excess, which we have been revelling in for the past two decades? The reality is us football supporters have been enabling this excess for too long, we need to take a good long hard look at ourselves first, before we criticise our club’s latest money making scheme.
This feels like a bit of a crossroads for the culture of football fandom in England. I think a lot of supporters who’ve been dedicating themselves by following their club’s home and away for years will use this break whilst games are played behind closed doors as an opportunity for a rethink of their level of dedication. Given everything since the advent of the Premier League it’s a surprise it’s taken so long, but like many things in our society at the moment, such as working from home, the pandemic has accelerated these cultural changes to happen sooner and made many to rethink their long term plans. And if many do decide to walk away, football crowds in a few years’ time will be much worse off because of it.
Diego Maradona once said of being given his first football by his uncle as a very young child: ‘That first football was the most beautiful present of my life… That day I was given it I slept all night hugging it.’ That’s what football fandom used to be about, somewhere along the line we all lost that spirit, maybe this opportunity for re-evaluation will bring it back.