More money, more problems?
Earlier this month, the rights to broadcast the Premier League in the UK from 2016 to 2019 were sold for a combined £5.13 billion. At over £2 billion more than the equivalent package from 2013 to 2016, this works out at £10.19 million per game over that period, or a staggering £113,000 a minute (which is still three times cheaper than Wilfried Zaha...). It now means that, when the deal starts, all Premier League clubs will receive more money for their domestic TV deals than any other club in the world, save for the two Spanish behemoths, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Whichever way one spins it (and there are a lot of ways – including this excellent analysis from The Swiss Ramble), it represents a dizzying sum of money, but what are the implications of the new deal for the sport?

For football traditionalists, there is no shortage of concerns, including the introduction of Friday night Premier League football and the increased dominance of the Premier League over other domestic competitions (the £3.5 million prize pot for the FA Cup compares fairly unfavourably with the projected £152 million for the Premier League champions). But, perhaps most intriguingly, the announcement has caused football fans to sharpen their focus on how clubs utilise these vast sums of money.

With accusations of greed and wastefulness already commonplace, the increase in TV money will be an added stick for supporters to beat clubs with if there is no tangible change in the way that most fans feel they are treated. Rising ticket prices, poor matchday experience, difficulty of getting to matches and poor administrative club staff pay are all familiar, justified gripes from football fans that will be inevitably magnified by this influx of cash.

At the announcement of the new deal, Premier League chairman Richard Scudamore declared that the Premier League would be putting more money towards grassroots football, but also called on individual clubs to act to help fans, specifically around ticket prices. This sentiment was shared by many in the footballing fraternity, who queued up to heap pressure on Premier League clubs: Gary Lineker commented on Twitter that football was now ‘awash with money’, and called for clubs to ‘cut ticket prices and make it affordable for real fans to attend.’ Jamie Carragher continued the theme by stating that ‘ticket pricing, especially for away fans, has to change’, advocating a policy of ‘£20 for the 20 away games.’

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Although ticket pricing should be the minimum that clubs are doing to improve their relationship with fans, it will be intriguing to see their different approaches to it, and will be a fairly simple aspect to track. Will we really see wholesale changes or will we see the continuation of a general theme of token gestures from clubs (I got a £2 discount off a recent away match ticket from my supported club, which knocked the cost down to a much more manageable £53…)?

If no substantial action is taken by clubs, it is clear that fans will waste no time in airing their grievances. In a world where fans feel increasingly ostracised from the football club hierarchy, there has been a noticeable rise in high-profile protests by supporters using the level of focus on the sport as an opportunity to push their agenda. This fan action is not focussed solely around the issue of ticket pricing and club treatment of fans, but in recent times has also included high-profile protests against clubs signing particular players, club owners who do not seem fit for purpose and even the use of WiFi in stadia.

In a world where Premier League clubs’ financial power continues to rise exponentially, and where fans increasingly feel marginalised, we are progressively seeing examples of supporters effectively undertaking their own PR stunts. It is a disappointing sign of the times that the public tarnishing of clubs’ images (often by their own fans) and those of governing bodies is seen as one of few viable ways to force action.

Of course, this sort of protest from supporters can also have a negative effect on club partners; Portsmouth shirt sponsor, Jobsite were probably not delighted to be associated with the above march against club owners, who fans believed were wrongly appointed to their powerful jobs. But outpourings of fan sentiment like this can often give sponsors interesting openings. Not only does it give useful fan insights that can influence creative activations (maybe fans aren’t desperate for WiFi in stadia?) but more importantly creates opportunities for sponsors to step in and add real value for fans when they may otherwise be feeling neglected.

This can be in the form of clear, tangible demonstrations of support like increasing opportunities to get to games or cutting costs of getting them there, but also can be through adding value to the matchday experience. Also, as has been seen in high profile examples such as with Ched Evans, sponsors can use their considerable clout to reinforce fans’ views to push for action and influence clubs in a way that fans simply cannot.

It will certainly to be interesting to see if, and how, Premier League clubs look to help fans with the increased TV money. But, equally, if there is continued inaction, then the reaction from sponsors to these ‘injustices’ will be worth keeping an eye on.

Watch this space.