But I still wanted to write about greed and venality so I’ve chosen a non-political target.
So, Sky and BT Sport are going to pay £5.1 billion to televise Premier League football over the next five years. Does this affect me? On the surface I would think not. In our house we don’t subscribe to either broadcaster so any effect that has on subscription costs will pass us by, but there are other, hidden, sources of cost. I’ll return to those a little later.
I have no doubt that the Premier League football clubs have opened up giant sized pots of glee with which to rub their hands. Apparently £5.1 billion works out at about £10 million per match. I don’t know the formula for working out what each club gets for having their matches televised but I’m pretty sure it makes a significant contribution to paying players’ wages each week. No doubt the bigger names on the pitch are also working out how much extra this will mean for them the next time they renegotiate their contracts. At least their agents will work it out for them. I can’t quite see Wayne Rooney sitting with a calculator trying to remember how to do percentages.
I’m not a big football fan. I’ll watch the FA Cup Final and England international matches and the more significant matches in the European Cup and World Cup, but I wasn’t burning the midnight oil watching the recent African Cup of Nations. I don’t even watch Match Of The Day. If any of the matches I want to watch are on Sky or BT Sport then I’m sure I can find a local hostelry where I can cheer along with a pint in my hand and it will cost me much less than a monthly subscription to either provider.
My game is rugby and I’d much rather invest my hard-earned cash in a season ticket to watch Northampton Saints and get the whole match day atmosphere as my wife and I cheer along and get involved in the crowd banter, which is far funnier than anything John Motson ever came up with (wrong sport I know but you get the idea).
If there’s a rugby match that’s not available on terrestrial TV then there’s the highlights programmes or once again I can resort to the pub. I watched all of England’s Autumn internationals in The Swan in Banbury, surrounded by knowledgeable and enthusiastic rugby fans. Not quite like being at the match, but definitely the next best thing. I certainly wouldn’t get that at home sitting in front of my own TV. Well, I’d still get the beer, but not the atmosphere.
As far as the other sports are concerned, well, I love playing golf but would I watch dawn to dusk coverage of any tournament? No thanks, I’ve actually got a life. Highlights will do for me. I’d rather the TV rights for The Open hadn’t gone to Sky from 2017, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it, or go out and buy a Sky subscription. As far as the rest of the sporting world is concerned I can get what I need from the back pages of the newspapers or through the internet.
Partly I think Rupert Murdoch and his family are rich enough without me paying to subscribe to their channels. Partly I’m very suspicious of a man who owns so much of the media but who doesn’t cover the major news stories if they don’t suit him or his friends. Partly I can get what I want for free. Sky is now making some very good TV series, but I can wait until they come out as box sets, when I can stream them onto my TV though the internet for the price of the rental.
I’ve spent many hours in the houses of family members (with their consent I hasten to add) scrolling through the Sky TV guide looking for something to watch and ending up watching exactly the same channels that I watch at home on Freeview, so why do I need Sky? So many of these satellite channels are broadcasting repeats of programmes, many of which I didn’t want to watch the first time round so why would I want to watch them now? Even the movies will turn up on terrestrial TV eventually and I’m patient enough to wait for that. If not I’ll be able to pay to stream them before I could get them on Sky.
But back to the football and that £5.1 billion deal. Many people have said that it’s a disgusting amount of money and just think how many hospitals or schools that would pay for. But of course it wouldn’t. Sky and BT Sport are businesses, so if they hadn't paid all that money to televise football whatever they spend the money on it wouldn’t have been hospitals or schools. They’ll either use the money to pay for other TV programmes, or they’ll hand it over to their shareholders in the form of dividends. Some of that money may find its way into the Treasury by way of the tax system, but the rest won’t. Anyway, given what we have heard recently about tax avoidance and evasion the Treasury will probably get much less than we thought.
You might as well say that its wrong that film companies to spend so much money making movies, because it makes no difference to how much money the government can spend on schools or hospitals, other than through the amount of money HMRC are able to squeeze out of them in tax.
OK, So that money wouldn’t be used to build schools or hospitals, but it’s disgusting that footballers get paid so much money for just kicking a football around, when nurses get so little. Oh please, footballers wages were getting more and more ludicrous long before Sky bought up the rights to televise football.
It started as soon as the maximum wage limit was abolished in 1961, well before Sky started broadcasting football in 1992. They have become even more ridiculous since then, but that is the way markets work.
Football clubs are in business to make a profit, just like any other business. They do that by attracting fans through the turnstiles and getting the best share they can out of the television rights money. That means having the best players and having the best players means paying what those players ask in wages. It isn’t fair, but this exists right across sport.
What footballers get paid is dwarfed by what Lewis Hamilton picks up for driving a fast car. The top 20 tennis players don’t do too badly. Tiger Woods is reputed to be the richest sportsman in the world and I’m guessing that Rory McIlroy is hot on his tail. All of that before we get to the biggest payers in the world, American Football, baseball and basketball.
If the world was a fair place that wouldn’t happen but please, show me the contract that says the world is a fair place. And please don’t look to politicians to make it fairer, because they won’t.
If Labour (the most likely party) were to promise to curb footballers’ wages there wouldn’t be universal cheering, there would be the loud banging of hammers as the football loving public started to construct a gallows. Labour wouldn’t be able to get elected dog catcher, as the Americans would have it, because the Beautiful Game is sacrosanct. By the way, if that is beauty then I’m George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise all rolled into one. Football is probably a bigger sacred cow than the NHS and that's saying something. Football fans (and there are millions of them) want to watch the best players and to attract the best players clubs have to pay the best wages. Now, go up to any football fan in any pub and tell him that he’s contributing to global inequality. Go on, I dare you.
Because we are all part of the problem. First of all if you are a football fan you feed this inequality every time you walk through the turnstile of a football ground. If you walk into the houses of many of the people who criticise the wages of footballers you will probably find a Sky box, or a Virgin Media box or a BT Sport box. Not in all of them, I grant you, but in many of them. They don’t have to be there. There is a free-to-air service which has so many channels that I’ve lost count, including the ones for which we pay our TV licence fee.
“Oh, we only have it for the films," they will say, "or the documentaries, or the news channels. Wasn’t Breaking Bad such good series?”
Yup, and I’m a monkey’s uncle. The fees for those subscriptions are what Sky and BT Sport use to pay that £5.1 billion bill. Without those fees those two businesses wouldn’t have been able to do what they did.
Of course it isn’t just the money from subscriptions that pays for the TV rights, but those millions of subscriptions are shown to potential advertisers and they are told “There, that’s the size of your audience. Those subscribers aren’t paying to watch documentaries on BBC 4 they’re paying to watch sports. So here’s how much extra we’re going to charge you to advertise through us from the start of the next football season”.
Yep, the cost of advertising all that beer and those cars and those trainers is going to go up. But will the brewers or the car companies or the sportswear manufacturers meet that extra cost? Of course not. It will be passed on to the consumer. That’s us. All of us. Even if we don’t watch football the cost of anything that is advertised during televised football matches will go up. And it’s not just what is advertised during football matches. The advertising fees for other time slots will go up as well, to prevent the advertisers trading down to cheaper times slots and other channels.
If everyone who pays a satellite TV subscription cancelled it tomorrow we could end this lunacy, but it ain’t gonna happen. The deal was sealed when Tony Blair promised to end analogue broadcasting. Oh, that was just after The Sun came out in support of him before the 1997 election, wasn’t it? The Sun is a Murdoch paper, but that was a pure coincidence I’m sure. Of course there was a free-to-air service put in place; when people pay a licence fee that had to be the case but many more people switched to satellite. I don’t know if Blair foresaw what would happen, but he is pretty good mates with Murdoch. Well he was until recently anyway. God father to one of Murdoch’s daughters, no less. But I’m sure this had nothing to do with him making us all switch to digital TV.
So, there you go. If you think that £5.1 billion is a ridiculous amount of money to pay to televise football, or you think that footballers earn far too much money, then the answer is in your hands. Cancel your Sky or BT Sport subscription. There, I bet that’s got Rupert Murdoch quaking in his boots!
But if we didn't have Sky and BT Sports we'd lose all that lovely sports ocverage, wouldn't we? No we wouldn't. We'd go back to the way it was before, with BBC and ITV fighting it out for the TV rights and they are both free to air across all the channels they offer. But, as I said, it ain't gonna happen.
Now for a bit of news. As an author I know how valuable a review posted on Amazon or other book related websites can be to the aspiring author, so in future this blog will feature more book reviews. They will mainly be favourable reviews as I don’t want to damage anyone’s fledgling writing career. That doesn’t mean I’ll be giving good reviews to bad books, it just means that generally I won’t post reviews of bad books.
I want to focus on those authors that haven’t yet made the big time, so if you have stumbled upon an author that fits that description and you enjoyed their book please let me know and I’ll include them in my list of potential books to review. Just e-mail me the title, the author’s name and, if possible, a link to a website where I can find out more about the book. I won’t promise to review it, but I will certainly consider it.
In the meantime, next week’s blog reviews Jodi Picoult’s latest book "Leaving Time". It’s a cracker. For those of you that enjoy my other rants then don’t worry. There’s more of them to come as well.
Less than 11 weeks till the election. isn't it exciting?