Many older generation fans will lament the modern day advancements in a variety of sporting arenas. Whether it is technology entering the game, the wages on offer, or in the case of the Premier League, the histrionics we are subjected to on a weekly basis.
One of the bedrock’s of modern sport however, has slipped off many casual observers radar. The power and wealth now held by the TV companies and executives, means that many of the world’s top sporting competitions and leagues are simply pawns in broadcasters financial one-upmanship.
Many sporting bodies and leagues now dance to TV’s beat as opposed to paying full attention to the wish of the paying fans, or even the clubs and players involved.
If we look at football first, which is the worlds number one sport and biggest ratings puller across the globe. The English Premier League is the most watched league, but when was the last time more than 5 or 6 matches took place at 3pm on a Saturday. Throughout the twentieth century, English football fans knew their team would be playing at 3pm on a Saturday almost every week. Now, particularly if a team is in a European competition, it’s anybody’s guess as to when their side kicks-off. Gone is the old fashioned appointment to view in top-flight football, having been replaced with convenient schedules for the moneymen.
There are a few factors at play in the example of the Premier League. Firstly, as a truly global league, the committee of the league is I’m sure trying to expand the league’s appeal right across the world. To facilitate this, staggered kick-off times may prove beneficial. A lunchtime kick-off in the UK can tie in perfectly for a huge Asian audience and also still be watchable in the USA without needing to set alarms for silly o’clock in the morning. Spreading the game, and allowing new fans to see the game live is an admirable cause, not doubt about it.
However, the reality is that this is not the main reason for the lack of coherent schedule. The simple fact is, the more staggered the kick-off times, the more games can be televised, the more money the TV broadcasters can make. You can almost guarantee that any game involving two of Man Utd, Man City, Arsenal, Chelsea, or Liverpool (barring derbies), will be a Sunday afternoon or Saturday evening game. I’m sure that many fans won’t mind that so many games are now televised. I mean we pay enough for a Sky or BT Sport subscription why not watch the maximum number of games. But I fear that many are missing out on the experience of watching their side live, whether that be a top-flight team or a lower league outfit. I’m sure that many lower league team fans, have given their match a swerve because it means missing the end of Saturday lunchtime Premier League fixture, or the start of a 5:15 kick-off.
If supporters want the best view, then the TV is clearly the best option. But for atmosphere, it’s not even a close second to seeing the game live. If you were lucky enough to be in the ground for David Beckham’s free kick against Greece, or Aguero’s last minute title winning goal for Man City, I’m sure that you tell everyone you meet. I was there! It was amazing. I watched both on TV, I rarely feel the need to tell people about my experience.
I was compelled to give my take on TV’s stranglehold on professional sport, after watching the Six Nations Rugby on Saturday. As it turned out, all three games were enthralling and provided genuine tension. But there was clearly an unfair advantage towards England as they knew exactly how many points they had to beat the French by, prior to kick-off. The only reason for the three ‘Super Saturday’ matches to kick-off at different times was the TV broadcasters, in this case the BBC.
Although the drama on Saturday was compelling, imagine if those games were all on at the same time. The title shifting hands on a score-by-score basis. The BBC could have provide a red button service to watch all three games concurrently, but that would have meant sacrificing 7 hours worth of huge TV ratings, for 2 hours of sport fuelled entertainment. Many England players and coaches actually spoke of being the last game to start as a disadvantage. A day’s worth of pent up tension and pressure simmering away all afternoon before they’ve even got on to the field.
The on-going Cricket World Cup and the ICC have drawn a lot of criticism for a number of reasons. The ICC are being lambasted by most, for their decision to limit the next World Cup to just 10 teams. This is a move driven out of self-interest, financial wrangling, and terror from the larger sides at missing out on a part of the ICC’s cashpot.
Social media has been abuzz over the past months, with all and sundry touting their versions of the Cricket World Cup that would be exciting, competitive and include associate nations. The major logistical stumbling block for an expanded CWC is TV revenue. Firstly, any tournament structure that means that a Test nation could be eliminated after 3 or so games would be financial suicide. Indian TV revenue dictates cricket’s showpiece event, and if India were to be eliminated early, the loss of revenue would be irreversibly damaging to the ICC.
But aside from the India problem, a further issue is that of TV scheduling of the matches themselves. A short sharp World Cup, packed with competitive games would be favoured by most fans. If that also needs to include associate nations, while also not jeopardising Indian revenue, then there is only one simple answer. The ICC would need to be open to more than 1 or 2 games happening on the same day. If they just increased it to three, the tournament would feel quicker, and the less competitive matches would not be so glaringly obvious.
For a tournament hosted in one time zone, as the current one isn’t, this would mean a huge dilemma for the TV broadcasters, who would once again risk losing revenue due to not being able to televise every ball of every game, without some sort of ‘red button’ or online service.
I fully accept that in some cases, broadcasters money can be used to good effect, and can in actual fact be vital to the sport itself. It is hard to dispute the good that Sky has done for English cricket, consistently ploughing millions of pounds into the game across all levels. But what have been the impacts of no free-to-air cricket? Are we seeing them now? Perhaps England’s current malaise is due to us now being presented with the first generation of players who remember little cricket on terrestrial TV. It has been nearly 10 years since English Test cricket appeared on Channel 4, and while it is clear that Sky presents the best option for the initiated cricket fan, with uninterrupted coverage and superb analysis; where does the young new cricket lover go to get his first fix of the sport?
In an ideal world, sporting considerations, those of the fans, players, teams and coaches, would be prioritised over the TV moneymen. It does appear however that we are past the point of no return. TV truly does rule global sport, and while that means that we can now, at a significant price, view pretty much any sport from anywhere in the world. It also means that on occasions the integrity and competitiveness of the sport becomes secondary.
Of course, this is just my opinion, i’d love to hear what others have to say on the topic of TV in sport. Please leave a comment below or find me on Twitter: @JackVSport