“Rooney har skickats iväg igen, han är en huligan från Liverpool!”
It sounded urgent but I had no idea whether it was good news or not. It turned out the Swedish commentator was lamenting a red card for our old friend Wayne Rooney.
Having spent 80 minutes watching the live Premier League game – on a Saturday afternoon – with accompanying Swedish commentary, I could be forgiven for being disappointed not to have been able to fully translate the ire. Alas, I had learned only that Stockholmers cannot say “Danny Welbeck,” in the same way you or I probably cannot say “Kukhuvud.”
Tradition dictates that Premier League games kick-off at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. Changes to this are usually television-related. “Skyjacked” is the terrace term. But what had been the weekend’s bigger game being moved to Sunday at 4pm has become almost the entire weekend calendar being televised throughout the weekend.
Games are moved to another time once TV decides to broadcast them because of ‘blackout’ rules, ostensibly to protect smaller clubs.
The thinking goes that if Wallsall are playing at 3pm in the rain some supporters will stay at home to watch Aston Villa or Man United on the telly if it is on at the same time. By ‘protecting’ the 3pm slot and stopping any live broadcast of football then supporters can watch both Wallsall in the rain and come home to watch Villa on the telly afterwards.
But a side effect of the foreign decoder fiasco is that pubs showing television from elsewhere in the EU are able to get around the blackout. This means if you, or your local, has a foreign decoder, you can avoid that rain at Walsall all along and watch some of those Premier league games kicking off at 3pm as the blackout doesn’t worry the non-UK broadcasters.
Given how much cheaper it is to by the foreign decoder than either Sky or a match ticket these days, is it really any wonder in a free economy that more and more people are watching the match via Sweden or Greece?
Why is it then that as ticket prices continue to rise, football fans are criticised for exercising their rights as consumers, whether it be TV decoders in a European single market or when there are cheaper alternatives to a match ticket?
You’d think businessmen especially would respect such practice. But not Sunderland Chairman Niall Quinn, who after giving it a lot of thought and with keeping things in proportion in mind described the practice and people doing it as “despicable”.
“Defending his branding of the fans he described as despicable, Quinn said he was trying to ignite the debate over the rights and wrongs of fans staying away from the Stadium of Light to get their match-day fix in the pubs.”
Poor Niall obviously has an interest in this: not just attendances at Sunderland which might be impacted by this practice (even if we might think the cost of tickets to watch football in an area hit hard by the recession has a bigger bearing) but also because of the end result of this unwelcome foreign competition: It dilutes Sky’s exclusive Premier League product, which means the League can hardly demand the money it currently does for “exclusive TV rights” from Sky while at the same time selling ‘foreign’ rights to our Rooney hating friends in Sweden and expecting them never to clash in a single EU marketplace.
Despicable indeed. Another kick in the teeth for poor Niall and his downtrodden Premier League colleagues! Although to be fair, the money is barely touching the sides as far as the clubs are concerned. The bigger Sky/ESPN contracts and excessive ticket costs simply funnel straight down into the yawning swag bags of the top-end players and the ever-growing ‘transfer industry.’
But Niall has a role in this. When he decides how much to pay his players and how much to raise ticket process by in the same day. When he goes into Premier League meetings and opposes a salary cap. Niall has a stake in this and has done ever since he negotiated his first players contract.
We can have the debate, Niall. And it’s about time we did. But it’s not the one you think we should be having.