Tag Archives: Supporters Direct Europe

The realities behind the €7bn TV deal

Within minutes of the Premier League’s new TV deal being revealed earlier this month, the football world had calculators out crunching the numbers.

The figures are staggering. The battle between Sky Sports and BT Sport saw the domestic rights for England’s top league tip just under €7 billion for the lifetime of the three-year agreement – and that’s before overseas or any highlights packages were added in.

Those involved in Scottish football, with many of its clubs experiencing significant turmoil at present, were left to dwell on the fact that the new deal surpasses their own monetary income from TV rights in just two games.

League Two side Accrington Stanley, meanwhile, pointed out that the sum to be paid for just one fixture under the new terms (circa £10 million per match) would pay their annual wage bill for the next 20 years.

For League of Ireland fans, the discussion centred, once again, on the lack of TV money within Irish domestic football – at least in the form of an agreement that would see money going directly to clubs in addition to prize money – and the impact of this on the League’s development cannot be underestimated given that Uefa’s own benchmarking report says that income from domestic TV rights typically averages 25% of total revenue for clubs across Europe (43% in England, according to the most recent figures released).

Further backing up the Premier League’s dominance, at least in terms of finance, is the fact that all 20 EPL clubs are part of football’s Top 40 rich list – and the new deal means that whichever club is unfortunate enough to finish bottom of the table at the end of the 2016-17 season will at least have £99 million in their back pocket to help with life back in the Championship.

Of course, the reason for the intense competition and the huge figures we’re seeing is the Premier League’s popularity on a globe scale. Nations all over the world want to see Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester City in action, while the concerns of those trying to actively support their local teams fade into the background like white noise.

A VisitBritain survey conducted in 2011 found that 174,000 Irish people travelled to Britain to watch football that year, spending €100 million in the process. Such ‘football tourists’ are big business as not only do they buy a premium-price match ticket, they also visit the club shop, perhaps take a tour of the stadium and then invest in merchandise year after year. I once paid £42 for a ticket to see Leeds United play in the Championship.

Irish supporters flying across the Irish Sea fork out for Premier League tickets on a handful of times a season but what about your local man, woman or youngster who needs to try and find the cash for a season ticket (Arsenal’s cheapest season ticket is now £1,014), and then face into an ever-changing fixture list on account of TV kick offs?

There are now real concerns that younger people in England are being priced out of the game and that the stadium atmospheres, considered such an integral part of the spectacle, are dying out as a direct consequence.

The Football Supporters’ Federation and Supporters Direct, representing a number of Premier League supporters’ trust, are backing initiatives to cap away ticket prices at £20 (‘Twenty’s plenty’), and there have also been calls for England’s top tier to implement the Living Wage, given their healthy bank balances.

Unfortunately, the response hasn’t been encouraging to date with PL chief Richard Scudamore saying that football isn’t responsible for increasing the minimum level of workers’ income. He also insists clubs need to continue to reinvest in talent and infrastructure in order for the Premier League to maintain its envied status.

The organisation currently redistributes about 6% of its income – 3% towards community programmes and facilities, and another 3% to the Football League and Conference in the form of ‘solidarity’ payments. Grassroots football, meanwhile, in many parts of Britain is on its knees.

I worked with Setanta Sports before they ever showed a Premier League game in the UK or Ireland, and experienced the huge upsurge the company felt when it did eventually dip its toes in the water and challenge Sky Sports (2006).

It was a fantastically exciting time – to have first-hand access to some of the biggest names in football – but there was to be no happy ending. Having failed to retain both their domestic packages in the UK next time around, the UK business eventually ceased trading in the summer of 2009 affecting Irish operations in the process.

Don’t fear: Scudamore and co. were not left out of pocket, and it was ESPN that came on board initially, taking many out-of-work Setanta staff with them. They too would flounder, unable to match the deep resources of Sky, but that context makes the arrival of BT Sport – and other possible bidders – ever more intriguing.

Football fans watching from these shores have also felt the cost of these deals. Two separate TV subscriptions, or many trips to the pub, are now needed to watch all live PL broadcasts on Sky Sports, BT Sport and Setanta Ireland – in an era where the average football fan has little or nothing in common with the likes of Wayne Rooney or Yaya Toure apart from the replica shirt he or she wears.

The new Premier League TV rights deal will see a 70% increase in income on its predecessor and yet supporters are today paying about 1000% more for match tickets than they did in 1992. There have also been significant increases in the cost of TV package subscriptions, and then we have the furore over the winter calendar for the 2020 World Cup. Thankfully, there’s also the success of FC United’s community shares scheme to celebrate…

The question remains: can a balance be struck between the financial powerhouse that is the Premier League and the needs of the game of football at every level across England? And, if so, who’s going to lead the drive for change? The FA? Clubs? Supporters?





FASFE event another boost to supporters’ movement

When you are involved right at the heart of a football club, it’s very easy to get caught up in the nuances of the relatively minor occurrences that go on on a daily basis. When you’re hands on week in week out, it’s difficult and unlikely that you’ll take time to move a step away and reflect on the bigger picture. It is something that I had the chance to do recently – when I attended a two-day football event in Madrid – and the experience was nothing short of exhilarating.

I have been looking after an EC-funded project in Ireland entitled ‘Improving Football Governance through Supporter Involvement and Community Ownership’ for a little while time now. The response within League of Ireland circles has been very encouraging and also enlightening in many different ways. Somehow the thought of clubs more actively co-operating with other football clubs does not seem the alien idea it once was.

In that Project Manager role, I was invited to speak at the FASFE event by our Spanish partners, specifically to address the importance of fan involvement in football. To everyone involved in FORAS, the early days of the trust are a story we imagine that everybody is aware of at this stage but at least one prominent chairman in the League of Ireland believed that it was set up as a takeover group until quite recently…

In fact, the initial days of the supporters trust were quite modest and even humble. Members spoke about helping the club and its then reliable owner, with a view to perhaps working towards a sharehold in the club one day in the distant future. As it was life would overtake all plans, and FORAS would become a critical part of the CCFC story from the moment of its launch in 2008.

A talented Board, with great leadership at its helm, guided the trust along a potentially hazardous path until March 5th, 2010 that a team under the banner of Cork City FORAS Co-op took to the field in the Brandywell with the hope and pride of its hundreds of owners behind them.

Cork City FORAS Co-op by Peadar O'Sullivan
Cork City FORAS Co-op by Peadar O’Sullivan (POSe Photo)

I retold the story of those early days to delegates from clubs all over Spain last month. For supporters worried about their club’s future and fearful of what the coming years might bring, it is heartening to know that fans have made a real difference – as the likes of AFC Wimbledon, FC United of Manchester and Shamrock Rovers had inspired FORAS and Cork City FC at times.

La Liga is packed full of wonderful footballers right now. Lionel Messi is a wonder to behold and yet look beyond the glamour and Spanish football, like the country itself, is in choppy waters and heading for the eye of a huge storm.

Like sessions at the Heart of the Game conference in Ireland last year, participants heard from a variety of people all with one significant thread in common – a passion for their football club and an urgent desire to seek a more sustainable way forward. Spanish law requires that competitive sporting teams must be a limited liability corporation – a requirement that is of huge frustration to those that see the need for the game to head down a very different route.

The regional government in Valencia are involved in helping no less than three football clubs at the moment, while Deportivo de La Coruna went into voluntary administration on account of their financial woes in the last couple of weeks.

There is good stuff going on to of course – especially the emergence of clubs like CAP Ciudad de Murcia and Club Deportivo Palencia, both of which are making progress in their own way – but, like Ireland, these clubs don’t get enough support or even spotlight.

Article from Spanish daily AS
Article from Spanish daily AS

As at the Irish event, the immediate feedback was really positive. There is something hugely refreshing and motivating when you find football peers that see things the same way: they can see the urgent need for change, the importance of giving fans – as one of the game’s most significant stakeholders – a proper voice as well as the benefit of inviting fans into the inner circle not only to hear their contribution but to allow them have real input into the issues that affect them directly every week.The movement is gained momentum across Europe – assisted by the resources and time given by the hard working people at Supporters Direct Europe – but, importantly, it is also being noticed and backed by people working within UEFA and the European Commission amongst other notable organisations.

Sometimes change happens overnight in dramatic fashion; sometimes change is a persistent journey of small steps. Either way, evolution is inevitable and supporters will be part of the next chapters to come.

Snippet from AS article
Snippet, mentioning Cork City, from AS article

Supporters are the Heart of the Game

What a couple of weeks. I had the great privilege of doing two really worthwhile things this month. On November 7th, I represented FORAS, Cork City FC, the EC Project I’m involved in and Irish football (in general) at a Supporters Direct Europe event at the European Parliament in Brussels.

Three days later (November 10th), I had the opportunity to open the Heart of the Game conference hosted in Cork for people involved in supporters-run clubs and trusts in Ireland. Both were incredible events and I was delighted to be in any way involved.

I come from an active family. By that I mean that I have had some great role models in my life. One of my grandfathers was a driving force behind our local GAA club (Whites Cross) for decades, the other lived most of his life on Derrynane Road – just a stone’s throw my Turner’s Cross, (one of) my spiritual homes. The former was a community man, an advocate for anything that kept people involved; the other someone who believed that you have to be prepared to stand up for what is right and fair.

The women in both of their lives were equally important to me. My grandmother was a woman that worked hard for everything in her life. Nothing came easy, but that was never an excuse. My Nan was an inspiration – a woman before her time, who believed that life was about chasing your dream. In chasing your dream, you live. She asked me one Christmas what I would do in life if I could do anything. I honestly told her that I would like to run a football club…

Becoming involved in FORAS and in Cork City in more recent years has brought me into the company of some incredible people – not only within Supporters Direct but in clubs and trusts across Ireland, the UK and Europe. The biggest thing I’ve learned? That Irish football is not alone. No national league is without its issues, no football association gets it right the entire time.

In putting together the speakers list for the Heart of the Game conference, I wanted anyone that attended to hear the sort of inspirational stories that have convinced me that supporters are integral to the very future of our game. Cork City FC have never had more ambitious owners that the 650 shareholders behind the club today. We want success off and on the field. Our priorities and objectives are many, and large in size – and sometimes in anxiety to get the small stuff perfect, we forget about the far bigger picture.

Results from an online supporters survey – with over 1,500 participants – were unveiled at the conference. Many headlines subsequently focused on the following Word Cloud, where fans were asked to select two words that described the running of football in Ireland. I don’t thing Irish football is corrupt, I don’t think many Irish football supporters think it is but there is a huge level of frustration out there and that, for me, is one of the main things that these survey results speak to.

My fellow Board member at Cork City, John Kennedy, and Phil Frampton of FC United of Manchester spoke passionately and in depth about the potential that football-related community projects have. These initiatives give something back to the communities that produce both our players and supporters but there are significant and unquantifiable benefits to a club for the effort they put in over many, many years.

A session on governance followed with speakers from Cork City and UCC in Sean O’Conaill, AFC Wimbledon in Kris Stewart and a representative from Swedish football in Lena Gustafson Wiberg. All spoke powerfully – and on the back of personal experience – about the types of challenges that football faces and the importance of always doing things right.

Chaired by Emmet Malone of the Irish Times, a panel that included ex-League of Ireland manager Damien Richardson, CCFC boss Tommy Dunne, journalist Alan Smith and David Toms from the School of History in UCC gave a great insight into the growing quality of players within the League and why, at last, the national squad is seeing one former-LOI star after another claiming a senior cap. Riccardo Bertolin, from MyRoma Supporters Trust, also spoke about the experiences of trusts in Italy and the particular challenges being faced there right now.

Phil Frampton, Kris Stewart and Kevin Rye (SD) led an honest and insightful discussion on Fan Activism and the difference it can make the following morning. Another great panel followed with Tim Murphy (Cork City), Stephen Ryan (Fota Wildlife Park), Siobhan Meehan (PR consultant) and John O’Brien (Sunday Independent), all of whom spoke in great detail about what clubs and trusts need to consider in trying to improve the Match Night experience and marketing of their own activities.

It’s all about the story you tell and how you tell it you see, and LOI clubs can no longer expect sports fans, journalists and the general public to go to these games without working hard to improve the product on offer first. Facilities, in particular, came up time and time again.

The conference culminating with an overview of Uefa’s SLO project. This session featured Stuart Dykes (SD) and Lena, the SLO at Djurgardens – and by the end no one in the room could have failed to see the potential of the role.

There is great potential in empowering football supporters to make a difference – first within their own organisation or trust and then extending that into their own football club and eventually their national league.

There is also nothing to be feared by empowering supporters. Yes, we are fans but we are also professionals with skills, expertise and knowledge to bring to the table. We want a club to support in decades from now and we can contribute to moving the game onto a more stable footing – particularly in here in Ireland.

I’ll finish up with some words from President of Ireland Michael D Higgins, who as a Galway United fan, was kind enough to send a message of support to everyone involved.

“As a strong supporters of the League of Ireland over the years, I am very encouraged to see football supporters coming together like this for the first time to develop ways of addressing the long-term challenges facing football in Ireland.

“I trust that your discussion at the Conference will be fruitful and will help to achieve the common goals of strengthening the long-term sustainability of our domestic game.”

Download: Message from President.

The League of Ireland is gaining friends in high places – it’s time we start utilising them!