Roger Nouveau – the modern fan of the Premier league era

 

There was a time when the football season ended in May and certainly in the odd year when there wasn’t a World Cup or European championship then that would be that until August.  Granted there would be a little bit of transfer speculation but it felt like a proper break away from football that come late August you would embrace it like a glass of cold water after hiking across the Sahara desert.

Now the coverage is constant that you almost wonder if the season has ever really ended.  Every day during the summer months there is the endless constant speculation of who is moving where that at times it matches the political intrigue of Macbeth.

That though is the circus that is the Premier league.  It needs to feed the hype and speculation in order to keep selling its product which is how it and let’s be honest football clubs see supporters as customers.

The money that is not only being pumped into football through television deals but spent on players is mind-blowing.  With the average player going for thirty million pounds the sense of any true value has been lost.  For Sky the billions spent on securing the rights to screening Premier league football is not just about securing the survival of the channel but about the clubs spending big so that supporters world-wide will continue to watch.  Hence the continuation of subscriptions and now in the age of streaming the reliance on overseas television rights.

Consequently it is important to keep generating the speculation about talks of Bale going to Manchester United for example or Ronaldo returning back to the UK.  With huge sums of money being spent it is meant to convince people that the Premier league is the one to watch and that Sky can provide this exclusive access.

The drama of deadline day is now something that is part of football.  At times it represents as though it is a life changing moment such as the Berlin wall coming down.  If it was watched twenty-five years ago people would wonder if it was a spoof as the coverage at times resembled Chris’ Morris’s Day to Day.  Who for example could forget the hapless reporter who had a purple dildo waved in his ear outside Everton’s Finch farm?

Football now is about marketing and rather than being a fan of the sport is more about being seen at the event.  It is more about construing an image rather than participating as a supporter.   Everything now is all about presentation so that for example Liverpool v Burnley on a cold February afternoon is a unique game to remember.  From the naff Premier league anthem, the presentation tops that both sides wear as they shake hands to the referee picking the ball up from the podium.  Gone are the days when both teams ran out and prior to kick off a firm hand shake from both Captains before tossing a coin to decide who would kick off from which half.  Half and half scarves which are wrong on so many levels are now souvenirs for the tourist who visits and will most likely not return again.

Packages are sold for tourists to sample ‘the real passionate white-hot heat of the Kop,’ that has helped Liverpool win major games over the years.  Ironically those type of supporters who are used for the posters have been priced out.  For those that have remained they are now well into middle-age and less inclined to be noisy as they once were in their youth.

The sound of seats clanking up as Crystal Palace took the lead against Liverpool in the last ten minutes was louder than the cries of encouragement than Liverpool fans as a large majority slunked off.  Previously there would be a stunned pause and a loud roar, snarling, and willing Liverpool to equalise and even grab a winner.  Now those type of supporters who throw in the towel are the first into their cars to moan about how Klopp doesn’t know what he is doing whilst incredibly questioning the players passion.

Radio phone ins and social media keep the interest and drama of the product alive.  Everybody can be an expert and whereas a similar incident from thirty years ago would barely generate a headline now a dodgy penalty is given the coverage of JFK being shot.  A soundbite or controversial comment from the manager is used to keep the hysteria and if a club is having a bad run of results well then the hysteria hits meltdown.  Rumours of losing the dressing room and the dreaded vote of confidence are mooted.

This of course encourages the expert fan who never goes the game but watches from his armchair who gets on the blower to say something incredibly stupid.  Once on the air they will preach their ignorance which of course ignites another load of angry calls which feeds the frenzy rather than any genuine debate and discussion about the game.   In other words its click bait with newspaper distributing articles or tweets knowing full well they will get hits and replies.

Part of the hype has brought a sense of entitlement amongst this new elite of supporters.  Unless their team is two-nil up within ten minutes they are screaming and slamming their prized hampers with frustration.  Of course nobody likes to get beat or drop points in vital games but if the players have given everything then at least accept they have done everything.  Besides moaning is not going to help and only makes the players more nervous.

The problem in this Sky era of football is that it has made supporters accountants who believe the Premier league is the be all and end all.  It is a remarkable achievement by Sky and the Premier league that a season of mediocrity is more acceptable than getting to a Cup final.

Getting into the top four is seen as a trophy with the money that a spot in the Champions league generates.  The money though doesn’t go into the pocket of supporters and nor does it mean extra money to bolster that squad.  A budget has been set regardless and players although ambitious will move where the money is regardless of whether the team is in the Champions league or not.  Yet supporters believe this spin that has been spun and would put a top four finish above winning the FA cup and a trip to Wembley.

Football is now increasingly about the hype and making as much money as possible from this new world-wide fan base.  That’s why clubs fly over to Australia, the far east, even the USA because there is money to be made and not because it will help pre-season training.

The International Champions cup which is currently a pre-season tournament can be seen as a future replacement or rival with the UEFA champions league.  With the money that it generated (incredibly ticket prices for the Madrid v Barcelona game in Miami  went for $5,500) it wouldn’t be a surprise if this happened.

Of course this would be by invitation only and not by earning a place.  After all despite AC Milan being a pale shadow of the team that they once were they have a global appeal and therefore can sell.  These games would not be played in the home cities but various stadiums across the globe to generate more cash and global appeal.  In turn these clubs such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool, and AC Milan would in effect be the footballing equivalent of the Harlem Globe Trotters.

This is why the controversial thirty-nine Premier league game was mooted.  Forget about upsetting the balance of fairness of the competition there is more money to be had from sales abroad and the television deals that would be made as a result.  Although dropped the idea still lurks like Jaws stalking Amity Island.

The £198 million deal for Neymar wasn’t just about signing a top player or even a signal of intent of winning the Champions league but about putting PSG as a major force in the global market.  Of course it is an intent to win the major honours but the price gets publicity, courts new supporters from across the world, and therefore increases the television deals.  Added to which is the marketing appeal that Neymar brings not just in terms of shirt sales but other promotions in the interest of PSG.

Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and any other big names spend big simply to boost their global appeal as well as improving the team.  Signing the top players keeps that interest and makes supporters excited that the latest big name has joined their club.

Increasingly football is moving away from its community and identity that clubs had.  Slogans such as ‘more than a club,’ ‘you’ll never walk alone,’ are increasingly sounding more like a brand rather than ‘the real thing,’ that it once had.  Even St. Pauli who view themselves as very much to the left in their ideals find that the skull and bones flag once flown as a symbol of defiance, has now been marketed.  Indeed you could argue that St. Pauli has now been sold as a ‘kult club,’ for people wanting something different.

Football is far removed from the working class game that it once was.  Certainly amongst the big clubs they are a brand that can be consumed as easily as a can of coke.  Hype and money keeps it ticking over with the global fan base proving ever more lucrative.  Just don’t surprised when the only connection that a football club has with its community is the name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cost of football is squeezing the ordinary fan out

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Liverpool’s Spion Kop 1960’s

The new supporter is nothing more than a paying extra    

Remember when watching football was just that.  You would go the match were it would only cost a couple of quid as a kid to watch top flight football.  For me it would be the Liverpool team of the late 1980’s with John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, John Aldridge terrorising defences with their fast free flowing football.   Of course they were highly paid but not on the astronomical amounts that players are on today.

Back then the clubs relied on the turnstiles for their main source of income.  Indeed some visiting teams used to look forward to playing at Anfield simply because they had a decent share of the match day revenue.   The big clubs at the time (Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal, Man Utd, and Spurs) didn’t take kindly to this and pushed forward for what we now know as the Premier League.  It meant more money was given to the big clubs and with Sky willing to pay big money for the ‘best league in the world,’ it transformed football forever with the avalanche of cash that suddenly swirled around top flight football.

This all tied in with football  becoming popular when England were a penalty kick from reaching the 1990 World Cup Final.  Ticket prices started to increase with the excuse at the time that it was to pay for the all seater stadiums as instructed by the Taylor report.   This though hasn’t stopped the clubs over the past twenty years later to keep on hiking up the amounts that a report in the Guardian last year stated that paying to watch football since 1990 has gone up to a thousand percent.  It cites how in 1990 it would cost £4 (£7.09 with inflation) to watch Liverpool whereas now it is £45, an increase of 1,025 percent.   That incidentally is not counting the cost of having a cup of tea or a hot chocolate at Anfield which is £2.50.  Unlike Leaf in Bold street who specialise in fancy tea’s (incidentally they are also cheaper) it is a Typhoo teabag with a bit of hot water.

Gone are the days when as a kid I would go down the match with friends on the day for a couple of quid.  Now it’s paying sky high prices and having to arrange tickets on a military scale.   For those not lucky enough to have a season ticket (or the money I would also like to add) you have to pay £20 for a membership card and get this you are not guaranteed a ticket but given an opportunity to apply for tickets.  That’s if you have been to enough games previously.

Ordinary people and certainly some of the fans that went when gates were low pre 1990 are being priced out of going the game.  Certainly in this economic climate with wages being low and the cost of living escalating going to watch football is to take a back burner.

Football and certainly the Premier League is now more about marketing and hyping the product.  Supporters are seen as commodities and it is about selling the experience.  Everything is hyped with every comment or action scrutinised.   You only have to turn on a sports show on the radio as they encourage listeners to contact the station.   The more eccentric or stupid the comment the better as this in turn encourages more outraged listeners to contact the station.  This is also true of newspapers as they hope it helps boost sales.   Transfer deadline day on Sky Sports news is treated as a major event with reporters outside every top flight club.  As the day draws to an end the hysteria blows up to a climatic end as though it was the ending of an action blockbuster film.

Football in the Premiership is about marketing and trying to  make the game an experience.  Take for instance the handshake before the kickoff and the Premier league anthem.  It isn’t about promoting gamesmanship but making it an occasion for the casual match goer or tourist visiting.   Kickoff times are scheduled around television’s convenience.  It certainly isn’t for fans that somehow have to make it to the other end of country for a 12:45 start for a game.

The much mooted 39 game shows the direction that the Premier League wishes to take.  Never mind that it would unbalance the competition it’s all about the money that they can make by franchising games abroad as well as the revenue to be made through television deals.  The fans who actually go the game their views don’t come into it.  As far as they are concerned you are just a willing paying extra for this great enterprise.   Regular football goers are like addicts were despite the moans and the continual hiking of prices will do everything to get their fix.  However you can only push people so far.  These are the supporters who somehow manage to find the time and put themselves into debt just so that they can follow their team.

Nevertheless it appears that football clubs just see supporters as a walking pound note.  When a club like Liverpool can actually charge people a fiver for wanting to stay on a season ticket waiting list, who cares if a few say no more and spew their season ticket.  There is always someone else willing to take their place.   Besides the money is to be made from the tourists who will spend money in the club shop, buy the food and drink inside the ground unlike the fan that has been going for over thirty years, who will have a pint at one of the local pubs and go straight the match.

Everything is about squeezing every last bit of money out of the supporter. Liverpool’s return to the Champions League this season saw the match day programmes cost £5 from the usual £3 on match day to commemorate being back amongst European’s elite.  Incidentally there is nothing extra in the programme except it being bigger in size.

Some fans are protesting and there have been protests this season from the Spirit of Shankly group at games this season.  No doubt the club probably snigger that they are still paying the £45 to stick up a flag saying that they are not prepared to pay.  Indeed the best way of protesting would be to boycott a televised game and let Sky or BT film the ‘world’s greatest league,’ in an empty stadium.   That though seems unlikely as people still want to get their fix of live football.  Yet even when attendances are low such as the Aston Villa and Southampton game which drew a 25,311 crowd on a Monday night game before Christmas the supporters still get it in the neck.

Never mind that Villa have been poor, never mind that Southampton fans were expected to travel and find the time off from work to travel to the midlands, never mind that it was £40 for a ticket before Christmas, never mind people in this dire economy would rather save their money and either watch it at home or have a couple of pints at the pub, the fans are derided as being disloyal.

Of course it’s a bit hard for Sky to sell the experience of Premiership football at an empty stadium.  Rather than question that the football clubs ought to reconsider their ticket prices  may be the reason why people decided not to buy a ticket the fans get the brunt of the blame for being disloyal.   This was also true when Manchester City failed to sell out for their Champions League game against Roma earlier on in the season.  Again rather than question whether it is reasonable to be charging £40 for a ticket, City fans were sneered at on social media for voting with their feet.

What really takes the biscuit is when you have multi-millionaire footballers such as Rio Ferdinand sneering at the supporters who decided not to go by tweeting that City fans would rather be at home watching Ramsey’s kitchen.’

The Premier League like to use the big crowds and the atmosphere to sell to the world of being part of this loud, bright experience yet clubs milk their regular supporters for all they are worth.  Indeed these supporters are seen as the extras to sell their product.  The audience across the globe are sold on the atmosphere as well as the blood and thunder of the English league.

Football is certainly not the working man’s game anymore and unless someone decides to make ticket prices more reasonable it will come to the point that regular supporters will spew it. By then though it will be too late and going the match will be like going the theatre rather than supporting the team.

Maybe it is time to take a stand and start boycotting games.  Let Sky broadcast a big match at a empty stadium.  Maybe the clubs may sit up and take notice.  After all clubs earn most of their money from television and sponsorship deals.  The money from the turnstiles is no longer the main source of income.

B. Benjamin