Wednesday, 20 August 2008

3pm Premier League under attack in the UK

It would seem that those people using foreign satellites to watch 3pm kick-offs from the Premier League are having their enjoyment curtailed, as it would appear that the Premier League are restricting feeds to those matches to stop pubs screening matches and reducing attendances at matches. This was recently posted on the Alsat forum, run by people who supply Digitalb cards.

Alsat sympathise with all Digalb cardholders over the sudden schedule alteration regards the non showing of Saturday 3pm games.

This has been bought about by action of the FAPL and Sport5 - who have withdrawn feeds to the Digialb service at this time. Digialb understand that the feeds should be available again on November 30. We imagine that this may be due to pressure from other providers such as Sky. It is believed the same action has also been applied to Nova.

This situation is sudden and unforeseen, and bought about by the above outside influences. Digialb are doing everything possible to fight the above actions. We will keep you up to date with any developments in the situation.

Meanwhile, we will remove any silly posts from the forum that blame the action of the FAPL personally on Darkman, Alsat Shop or Digialb.

Further discussion and speculation on the 3pm situation will also be removed, as it serves no good purpose at this time.

As mentioned we will keep you up to date with the situation - with news only from official sources.

*Please keep in mind these actions may also affect any other foreign cards in the near future.

Now, it is worth commenting that Digitalb don't have the greatest reputation. It's under debate if they actually have rights to show the AC Milan, Juventus or Inter Milan TV Stations on their service, and they do seem to occasionally just re-transmit streams from other broadcasters with the sound turned off and their only commentary (for instance, last season they managed to screen Napoli's home matches against some of the big teams in Italy which no other station outside Italy were able to show).

The confusing thing in the message is why the Premier League would restrict access up to the end of November. I can't understand how this would cause the problem to subside if the broadcasts begin again in December. Of course, the start of the season is a crucial time to gain new subscribers and when people are renewing their subscriptions, so the cynic in me wonders if it is spin designed to get as many subscribers as possible based on false promises, and when broadcasts don't resume in December, there will be little these subscribers can do.

It's easy to see why these cards and systems are becoming popular - for pubs, these represent a vast saving on Sky's commercial rates. It's also a grey area if they're illegal to use or not - Sky are trying to bring several cases against publicans who use foreign systems, and there are posts on forums from publicans who say their brewery is recommending they take these systems. For the home subscriber, they offer all that Sky and Setanta can broadcast, plus the added advantage of a selection of 3pm kick-offs, which are blacked out in the UK to protect attendances at football beneath the Premier League. A digitalb card costs around £220, and a satellite system can be installed for a one-off fee of between £200 and £400, a combined cost of less than many season tickets to top flight football. Useful if you're a fan of one of the big teams, priced out of going to your ground. Less useful if you're a fan of one of the smaller Premier League teams, less marketable outside the UK and restricted mainly to showings against the big teams.

What's confusing about the decision is why they've only decided to focus on some broadcasters. Perhaps others will follow, but at the moment restrictions seem only to have been placed on some of the channels which are most easily receivable in the UK. It's also strange that the Premier League would take this decision, knowing that it will harm it's "product" in foreign territories, in a time when it is seeking to take it's globalisation even further. I wonder how football fans in Greece or Albania feel about their viewing being restricted?

What I do support is the black-out which continues in the UK at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon, and keeps attendances high at lower league football. The English second tier, for instance, is the eight most watched league in Europe, which would surely dimish should more Premier League football be available on a Saturday afternoon. As a fan of Morecambe, when we play on Tuesday night and go up against a Champion's League matchnight, 500 can easily be knocked off our attendance. It doesn't sound like much, but on average attendances of 2500, it's a significant downturn in revenue. I'm sure most clubs at a lower level realise that not everyone that comes through the gate is a dyed-in-the-wool supporter, and may have loyalties elsewhere, but are grateful for their custom regardless.

People often make the argument that other leagues in Europe survive, despite having all their top flight matches screened live. They have a point, but often in Europe the top flight matches are played at a time when they don't affect lower league matches. For instance, in Spain, lower flight football is often played in the morning, whilst La Liga is screened in the evening. Other leagues also don't charge the extortionate entrance fees charged in the Premier League - it may be that the masses of empty seats in the like of the Reebok Stadium or Middlesbrough's Roverside are not because people are watching down the pub on a foreign station, but because the price is too high. Half the admission cost, and watch attendances rise. German football is the perfect example - almost capacity stadiums all over the Bundesliga, great atmosphere and all down to being able to turn up on a match day, hand over less than a tenner and watch top flight football.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against all the Premier League matches being on TV, and I'm sure it will happen one day. But lower flight football must be protected at all costs, and put first for a change rather than letting the Premier League extend it's grip further. Perhaps move all the Premier League matches bar the lunchtime and evening Saturday kick-offs to Sunday, and let the part-time fans help keep the lower league teams afloat.

The other interesting aspect to this situation that I find is that it shows the attitude of a lot of English football "fans" to foreign football, who find it incomprehensible that anyone would want to watch anything other than the Premier League. I don't expect anyone to get up and start supporting their local team on the back of this, but given that there are regularly four live matches each weekend in the Premier League in the UK, why not give something else a go on a Saturday afternoon? I'll be watching Borussia Dortmund vs Bayern Munich this Saturday, and I'm really looking forward to it.


Anonymous said...

Since Germany started showing every Championship (Second German Bundesliga) match live the league has been able to achieve record attendances. The 3pm black-out is a joke. I don't want to watch other people watching the footie on Sky Sports News. I want the choice of at least three different 3pm kick-offs!

Anonymous said...

3pm blackout is bollocks, we can't even watch our own countries football when the rest of the world do, just another way to rip us off!

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