This week the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) released a statement calling on the Premier League (PL) to ‘reverse the broadcast lockout’ on televising football matches during the current pandemic. The FSA has the backing of football supporters’ groups like ours (AISA, the Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association), and an All-Party Parliamentary Group headed by Ian Mearns MP (who has written to the PL).
As the FSA state, in normal circumstances. they would support the three o’clock blackout that prevents TV companies offering matches to viewers But these are far from ‘normal circumstances’, as the FSA’s Kevin Miles points out:
‘Watching our teams play is fundamental in the life of football fans, and when exceptional circumstances prevent the loyalest of fans from being at a game – whether because of health concerns or ticket availability – then exceptional measures are needed to allow some form of access to live games.’
Today, in a followup, the FSA has commented that the PL will not back down, adding that ‘the FSA’s Premier League Fans Network (to which AISA belongs) finds this totally unacceptable’.
Football is a multi-million-dollar business, let’s be under no illusion about that. Footballers earn staggeringly huge amounts of money for entertaining us for 90 minutes. In order to pay them such salaries, clubs need to generate huge sums of money themselves. TV revenue (from Sky, BTSport, terrestrial TV and broadcasters worldwide) is crucial to this.
In lockdown, clubs have lost another important revenue stream: the match-going fan. Most of us, while we might watch football on TV whenever we can, would usually prefer to watch a game live and in person. There are around 46,000 Arsenal season ticket holders, and tens of thousands of silver and red members, who like to see the team play at home. A smaller, but arguably even more dedicated bunch of Gooners likes to travel to see the boys play away, many of them racking up thousands of air miles (and coach and train and car ones) in the process.
For months now we haven’t been able to go to games and I think the vast majority of us understand and accept it. It’s just not safe to open up football grounds until this pandemic is beaten.
I welcome the fact that football is returning in September and that some fans will be attending games at the Emirates from October, but at greatly reduced capacity. (The club promises to outline the details of this next week.)
That means most of us will be disappointed and will have either to watch the Gunners on TV, listen to the radio, or follow matches on Arsenal.com.
I think we can accept this but the PL and the broadcasters need to work with us. The FSA aren’t asking for all matches to televised for free; a suggested £10 pay-to-view seems reasonable. After all, since fans in other countries can watch the PL (even those games played at three o’clock) it is already possible to watch football online illegally as plenty of pirate streams are available to those who want to risk importing a computer virus onto their devices.
Why can’t the PL and broadcasters recognise that, in these strange and unprecedented times, we need creative solutions?
It would go a long way to demonstrating that football fans – the folk that create the raison d’être for clubs like Arsenal and organisations like the PL to exist – actually matter to the game. We’ve been fleeced, pushed around, exploited, and ignored for far too long and this is an opportunity to make a concession that would cost the PL nothing (and generate some money into the bargain).
Let’s make the PL open to all – not for free but at a cost we can all afford.
Drew Gray, AISA Chair