Aside from the games, goals, injuries and scandals, there is one news story that has emerged today that could have a significant impact on English football, both in terms of the supporter experience and the finances of the clubs themselves.
“Karen Murphy, a Portsmouth pub landlord has successfully use of the European Court of Justice to overturn nearly £8,000 in fines and costs for using a cheaper Greek decoder in her pub to bypass controls over match screening
It said national legislation, which banned the use of overseas decoders, could not “be justified either in light of the objective of protecting intellectual property rights or by the objective of encouraging the public to attend football stadiums””
Unless the British High Court decides to take the almost unprecedented step of over-ruling the ECJ, this could fundamentally affect the way the Premier League tenders its football rights. The BBC questions” whether pubs could broadcast match action without using any of these Premier League “extras” and thus breaching the league’s copyright”, but I have seen it done easily enough in chains of pubs who replace the branded content with their own, or via sophisticated broadcast hi-jackers.
The potential consequences of this ruling are two-fold.
Firstly, it could serve to devalue the existing TV rights deal by a significant percentage due to the relative cost of using foreign decoders for the consumer. Costs to pubs can be as much as £2000 a month from sky, whereas using a Greek decoder can be as little as £100 per month. Its a no-brainer. If this drop in revenue is reflected on a large scale in pubs, (and lets face it, in this internet age it won’t be too hard to see it being extended to homes if it becomes accepted practice), the pot of TV cash available to the clubs is going to drop significantly. This won’t be quite as dramatic as the ITV digital crash a few years ago that endangered a number of Football League clubs, but it will have an effect.
Secondly, if the use of foreign decoders in pubs becomes more common practice, it will significantly increase the amount of games available for fans to watch in pubs (as a veteran of Italian Sky in Sports Cafe in Piccadilly Circus), which could flood the market and further devalue the relative TV income per game. Also, it could serve to result in reduced attendances, especially when teams are under-achieving, as fans will be able to see more games from the comfort of their local.
Both these elements could affect the incomes of clubs, and possibly push us here closer the Spanish model of individually negotiated TV deals, which have artificially propped up Real Madrid and Barcalona financially at the direct expense of any potential challengers. Any further un-leveling of the TV income playing field in this country would not only fundamentally damage the game, it would also play into the hands of the likes of Man City and their petro-dollars and massively artificially high sponsorship deals from Royal relatives.
The one positive is that it might finally make the English clubs wake up to the knife-edge sustainability of some of their business models, and start the slow shift towards the more prudent, more moral and more fanbase connected German Model.