Monday, December 04, 2006

Happy Birthday To Me!

Despite not wanting to, I had to work on my birthday. It wasn't for very long, but still, it was a Saturday! Then, having watched the Arsenal v Spurs game on TV, had to do more work! Okay, this second bout of work only involved making a sound system work in my local, and I did get paid for it in beer, but the sentiment is the same. Shouldn't work on my birthday.

Foreign Ownership Of Football Clubs

So, at the present time, six clubs in the Premiership are in the hands of foreign investors with Liverpool likely to become the seventh in the next few days. This will mean one third of the Premiership will be owned by chairmen from overseas.

Not necessarily a bad thing, and this won't lapse into some longing for the times when racism, hooliganism and appalling lack of regard for the safety of the fans was a great deal more common than it is now. I do however, question the mentality of some fans of clubs - such as my own - who actively look for the short-term benefit without looking at the potential long-term losses in these overseas investors.

Okay, so you may end up with the situation Chelsea are in: two Premierships in a row, and a team normally only assembled with a hacked version of Championship Manager. Wonderful news for the fans who've been with them through thick and thin: The fans who remember how bad they used to be. Unfortunately this success has come at a price.

Chelsea is now one of the most expensive stadiums to watch football in, not just in the Premiership, but in the world. And you can get away with charging what you want should demand outstrip supply. Which of course it does, as every glory hunting fan in London (and beyond) now claims to have always liked Chelsea and tries to get to at least one game a season.

Unfortunately, Chelsea have also become the image of a fantastically grand-scale money laundering operation. Buy a player, lets call him Damien Duff, from Blackburn Rovers for £17m, pay him, oh, let's say £70k a week (and I'm probably being conservative there) for two seasons (but only really get one decent season out of him) then sell him to Newcastle United for £5m. Right. Good business sense there. The money Newcastle paid for him is less than his wages would have cost Chelsea for the two years he was there, even if he was *only* on £50k a week.

Repeat with, oh, so many to choose from; Juan Sebastien Veron (bought for £15m, let go on a free having spent two seasons on loan away from Chelsea); Adrian Mutu (released from his contract - at a cost of £13.8m - when he was discovered to have a drug habit); Shaun Wright-Phillips (bought for £21m, languished in reserves and on the bench, now probably going for £10m in January sales); and, Scott Parker (bought for £10m, played repeatedly out of position as a winger(!), sold to the Toon for £6.5m).

So, perhaps money laundering is why Abramovich bought Chelsea. Or perhaps he's a great footballing philanthropist? Who knows. But why are so many other, seemingly sensible, people without dirty money to clean looking to "invest" in the Premiership?

Well, how about this.

Today, BT announced it would, in the near future, be launching a service to watch football on your mobile and over its broadband services. At the minute, Sky is pretty much the only way to (legally) watch Premiership football. But this move by BT marks, I believe a change in the paradigm which has potentially HUGE consequences for the consumer.

It can only be a few months before clubs start to sell their own live online footage, charging the fans who can't get into the ground slightly less to watch it somewhere else. And that money is more likely to come directly back to the clubs than it is having been passed through Rupert Murdoch's sweaty Aussie hands. Clubs will start to sell their own television rights (as already happens in Italy) and the "bigger" clubs will get even richer.

So, a canny foreign investor, getting in now, can shell out a relatively large amount of cash in the short-term, take some money from online matches yet still reap the benefit of the Murdoch Monopoly payments for the next few seasons, and then make serious cash from selling their own rights when the current deal runs out.

It is entirely possible that in less than one generation, there'll be no shared experience of watching a big game. Not all football fans will see the same incidents - like Paul Gascoigne being carried off in the FA Cup at Wembley his career effectively ending on a stretcher or like David Beckham scoring from his own half at Wimbledon and being on the verge of being internationally famous - because individual clubs will own that footage. If you want to see it, you're going to have to pay for it.

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