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I’ve Got £15 Left In My Bank Account . . . Should I Give It To Football, Rugby, Or My Local Petrol Station?

Pay per view proposals for Premier League matches, the Project Big Picture plan, rugby internationals on Amazon Prime – the headaches for the TV sports fan were severe enough before the pandemic. But now, there’s new element to consider, argues, Harri Morgan – the obligation of the fan to his team.

I’m that guy in the friendship group who – for whatever reason – seems to have built a solid reputation for operating a stringent fiscal policy.

Their friendly opinions would have been vindicated had they seen my brain working through the decision on whether or not to invest funds in an annual subscription to allow me consume Pro 14 rugby at my leisure.

When I finally decided that it warranted funding, I had only allowed myself 15 minutes ahead of the Glasgow v Scarlets game to complete the transaction. No problem, plenty of time to enter the personals and bank details.

“Computer says, no” – or “email already in use” to be precise. An account created seven years ago, when Premier had the NRL, was a barrier to entry that couldn’t be overcome.

At least, not on a Sunday when the customer services team were probably chowing on roasties. Rightly so, too.

 

So, here I am tapping away, with BBC Radio Scotland pumping through the cans.

“….and it’s a red card for the Scarlets – ‘Great ref, this guy’” chirps the expert co-commentator. Eye roll.

Anyhow, the purpose of this column isn’t the ongoing match, or a rant on the lazy bias that one must take as a given when they tune into any sporting broadcast intended for a regional audience.

A combination of my Premier Sports pre-purchase due diligence and the decision of the Premier League clubs to introduce a ‘box office’ charge for certain matches, made me think about the relationship and obligations of a fan and their preferred sporting organisation.

The perceived financial prowess of Premier League football clubs makes it easy to criticise the introduction of a fee for matches that wouldn’t normally warrant the ‘box office’ tag as a greedy one.

 

The reality of the business of sport in the context of Covid-19 is that these organisations have seen a dam thrown into a revenue stream.

Ticket sales are one of the variables that help determine the financial viability or otherwise of many clubs. A sales volume of zero wouldn’t feature in any forecast or algorithm.

As Gunnersaurus would happily tell you, the pinch is being felt even by those who wouldn’t normally feature in a discussion on the financial pressures of professional sport.

For fans of those institutions who spent the ‘old normal’ on the budgeting brink, there is a real risk that the cash hit resulting from the ongoing behind closed doors policy could end up with doors locked for keeps.

It’s a situation which could leave fans dwelling on how such a demise came to pass, and perhaps what they could, or should, have done as a supporter in the hour of need.

There is undoubtedly an individualised element to whether fans have an obligation to continue to channel a segment of their social spend toward their team, as they would have done pre-pandemic.

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Many will have seen drastic changes to their own immediate personal finance, and as such must prioritise their own needs before considering those of their weekend love.

For others, it may be work rather than spending priority that has moved a little closer to home.

Given that our options for social outlay seem to be drying up by the week, is it actually so unreasonable for football clubs, and other sporting organisations, to seek to replace ticket revenue by putting games behind a pay wall?

It may be that it’s now a necessary price to ensure the beloved match day experience still exists in the next normal.

It’s perhaps an investment for the long end of the curve – for preservation of the good times, the best times.

It is, though, quite the shift in mind set when compared to the immediacy of the elation or deflation that we would usually associate with spending on our team.

The readiness of fans to make such selfless decisions will also depend on the regard in which they hold the boss people.

Those in charge have some tough decisions to make in terms of ensuring short, medium and long term financial stability – not only for their organisation, but the ecosystem in which they operate.

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If Covid-19 has altered the equilibrium of the journey across the tightrope, the question that power brokers need to be asked is not only how do we stop ourselves falling from the tightrope, but how do we eradicate the tightrope altogether?

In fact, how do we get out of the circus altogether?

A review of football finance conducted by accounting firm, Deloitte, highlighted that Covid-19 represents the ‘greatest threat to survival since the demise of ITV Digital in 2002’.

The document also points out that the pandemic will force upon clubs the opportunity to reassess the way that their finances are structured.

The systemic fragility that has been exposed should remove the dog-eat-dog survival of the fittest mentality, although that’s highly debatable given the reaction to Project Big Picture.

Whilst competition is continuing on the field, a collective approach is required to redress the norm of spending above and beyond means.

Yes, the revenue hole caused by Covid-19 is a factor, a major one, and an unforeseen one – but in many cases it is best viewed as an accelerator of the financial woe already present.

It is inevitable that players would be first to feel the pinch as wages represent such a large portion of spend – these must be brought back into line with the financial fundamentals of the underlying product.

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If, in the future, the product increases in market value then, in turn, players’ wages should be the first thing to increase.

If sport is part of the entertainment industry, then its professional athletes are the entertainers.

The importance of players as a commodity for achieving success makes the collective element of any change paramount.

For as long as wages are viewed as a tool for achieving success rather than appropriately remunerating entertainers for the revenue that their talent brings to the balance sheet, then the balancing act will be perpetual.

Based on my logic, I should probably be continuing to support the local petrol station as my spend has reduced whilst working from home.

I won’t be doing that.

But I probably should practice what I preach and get behind my club, financially. Let me crunch the numbers.

 

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