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If TV football rights payments crash as predicted, who will gain?

By Dr Billy (the dog) McGraw

We have had so many years of the media chattering about the extra money clubs are earning from TV rights it is hard to remember that the actual earnings of English clubs from TV next year will be down.

And that came before beIN Media started talking about reducing the amount of money it was prepared to put into buying football rights because the major footballing countries that sell their rights (including England of course) had done nothing about piracy.

Now we all know a bit about piracy done by guys with dodgy discs on their rooftops and pub owners paying out £50 a week with no questions asked. But that is not quite the problem any more.

Piracy is now done by countries – or at least one country.   And this is happening at a time when the money that has come pouring into clubs from foreign TV operations has become  more than the icing on the cake, it has become the cake.   And the cake stand.  And the knife that you cut the cake with.  And the plate you eat it off.  And the fork.

And the dishwasher.

For as a recent report pointed out, for some smaller Premier League clubs the TV rights now represent little short of nine tenths of the total income of some clubs.

While Arsenal had an average ticket sales per game last season of 59,899, the second highest in the league, Bournemouth sold 10,532 tickets per game.  Watford had 20,016 and Burnley 20,543.

And not only are these numbers far far lower than Arsenal and other top clubs, the cost of each ticket is a fraction of the cost at Arsenal etc especially when you take the boxes and other fancy stuff into account.

The problem is one that we have considered before.   For where we have BeIN Sports which operates in country after country after… well, you get the idea, we also have beoutQ, which offers the same packages for free.   And it does it in a way that means that  users often have no idea that they are getting skimmed coverage.

In fact BeoutQ has managed to broadcast live thousands of games from league matches to Champions League and World Cup  games for two years.

It comes down to this: BeIN is based in Qatar.   But Qatar (and here I quote from Wiki since if I ever write something about the middle east in my own words all I get is a load of abuse) has been accused of supporting Hamas, the Palestinian group regarded as a foreign terrorist organization by the USA, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others.

When Saudi Arabia broke with Qatar, BeIN was no longer then available, but up popped beoutQ.

Curiously footballing countries and authorities does seem to care either about politics or terrorism or piracy, as long as they get richer on the backs of sports.

But as the BBC reported on 14 February 2018 The Premier League has seen a decline in the money raised from the sale of rights to broadcast matches in the UK.   While in May 2019 Sports Promedia reported that the decline is likely to reach 40% in terms of Champions League games, with other competitions following.

Now at the same time the percentage of the money coming into clubs that become particularly successful in Europe has been growing as there is a general feeling that the amount supporters can be charged to see league games live has reached a limit.

It is a story that is being followed around the world, as when the New York Times last year ran the headline, “What do you do when your multibillion dollar sports network has been stolen?”

The key moments in the battle came with the Champions League games last season wherein BeoutQ ran all the games no more than 10 seconds later than BeIN.  And  for free.

And seemingly will remain so as long as Saudi Arabia and its chums continue to blockade of Qatar, claiming it as being a supporter of State Terrorism, and having an embargo and blockade of Qatar.

The outfall of all this is that the income earned by BeIN, Sky and everyone else is dramatically falling, and that means inevitably that the money being bid by the biggest player in the market is greatly declining.

It was always a risk that football took when it started doing deals with undemocratic countries that do not share western values.  Now it seems the result of such a willingness to accept money no matter what the source may be about to create a fall.

And if the fall does happen, the consequences could be huge, because if some clubs suddenly can’t pay their transfer fees (traditionally paid over a period of years rather than when the player signs) because there is far lower income from overseas TV rights, the issue will reverberate around the whole of football – not least because quite a few clubs seem to be acting as if the money will continue to come in from foreign lands, no matter what.

And who will gain?   Presumably those clubs with larger stadia that have been paid for, positive cash flows, and limited exposure to the middle east as a source of finance.

A change could be afoot.

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