E is for Footie

EeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEEE! Goal

FootieWe recently looked at the way TV news had evolved in the past 40 years, but had now retreated from over-stretch because of the internet.  So TV news rarely needs to be available 24 hours a day because the internet can do that, and it doesn’t need to involve the audience commenting on screen, when that function is adequately covered by blogs, forums and twitter. TV news is for edited information and analysis by experts.

But what about football?  Someone recently pointed out that football rights for the Premier league takes up a quarter of TV programme costs in the UK, while the game takes up only 0.6% of total TV viewing. Which is weird, but points up the oddness of the market.  People will pay a fortune to watch something scarce, and live football is a rare, perishable commodity.  Perhaps you’ve noticed how many perfectly sensible people maintain odd loyalties to football teams they started to support because their dads were born there, or an utterly random reason.

It’s bloody stupid, but there you go.

When it comes to TV sport, we know what we like, but sometimes forget how far we’ve come:

I remember two research projects in India when I worked for Star TV.  The first time, we asked about Star Sports and audiences raved about it.  What a brilliant channel – it made the state broadcaster, Doordarshan look like an amateur.  Six months later, after ESPN had launched, we asked about Star Sports, and their response was .. meh.  Star Sports was now being compared with a superior competitor and found wanting.  Star Sports hadn’t changed, but its point of comparison had. Our expectations gets ratcheted up:

Chinny Reckon

When you hear someone who doesn’t understand TV suggesting that it is stuck in the 1970s, point them to Jimmy Hill.


Football was largely about edited highlights on Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon with occasional live international games or FA cup matches.  I can still remember watching Brian Clough, then the manager of Brighton and Hove, responding to his team losing 8-2 on The Big Match. Oh look, it’s on YouTube… Goodness that’s slow.  That, as the Jam might have said, was entertainment, but not as we now know it..


It has to be said, that while edited highlights can be super, the key to scarcity is not knowing what’s going to happen, and the anticipation. Even people who claim to never watch live TV – the liars – will sometimes admit that even they watch a loive football match from time to time (the truth is that many programmes from other genres are like live, communal football matches, but that’s advanced level stuff, and not for now). Ideally with other people. Sky TV’s fortunes may have been secured by football, but it’s worked both ways, transforming the way we appreciate the game. It’s brought the crowd in.


I once had a terrible temp job ushering at sports events.  The lowlight was a rainy match at Chelsea, next to the pitch, but where we had to stare at the crowd. Yes, we want the crowd, but not that much. In the spirit of audience involvement, football is now enabling audience members. From Soccer am, to Soccer Saturday, it’s all part of this process – it’s not all about watching matches, but recreating the fan experience.


Next, television has started helping the viewer acquire its Sweet FA coaching badges, by providing extra information on tactics, data on performance, 442, 433, 424, wing-backs, en passant, ‘them centre-backs’, we get a chance to apply the vast array of our cognitive functions to the question of whether the referee is bang out of order, or an absolute ledge.  We can all be Harry Redknapp.


I live in N5, the home of Arsenal, where half of the eateries in Blackstock Road and Highbury Park are sustained by weekend trade: a whole ecosystem built around match-day.  When football matches are on TV, social media enables the sedentary viewer to get stuck in, betting on matches, creating fantasy teams, interacting (in their imagination) with the players via Twitter.   But it all starts on-screen.


If the evidence for trickle down economics is thin, so is the evidence that televised sport gets people exercising.  Just as the world of tech has been trying for years to muscle its way into the TV experience, so it’s been looking for ways to insert itself between star Wayne Rooney and fan Wayne Spooney (random everyman name).  Nevertheless, there’s an effort to mobilise viewers into tech’s latest wheezes whether wearables, or virtual reality.  Coming next, compare your workrate with the stars, or immerse yourself via Oculus rift…


It’s wherever you want to be.  In the living room, of course, because that makes the most sense but not if you’d rather take it in the bathroom or shed.  Or down the pub. Or when you’re somewhere else.  For me, it’s more about who you are with and who it makes you think about (your fellow fans, your dad?).  I loath the way money has fixed the matches one way, the transfer of ££billions from poor fans to young millionaire, but I now watch because my sons are obsessed with the game. I’ll watch whenever they want to.


What it comes back to. Coverage of live matches and highlights, analysis and gossip, speculation and passion, fans and millionaires,  for audiences to enjoy, in HD on a massive screen, from multiple angles.  The premium of not knowing the result, of watching with others, and caring, in a way that makes absolutely no sense at all, for one of the teams.