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Football Gets Passed from TV to Online

From the October Zeitgeist…

Football Gets Passed from TV to Online

Experiments during international football matches are nothing new. With barely a dozen games taking place each season, injuries, suspensions and form force managers to try out new players and tactics on a regular basis. However, for the recent World Cup
qualifier against Ukraine, England fans had to face a trial of a very different kind.

Way back when the draw was made back in 2007, the Ukrainian Football Association sold the UK broadcasting rights to Kentaro, a sports rights management company. Kentaro in turn, sold the rights to Setanta who slid into administration in June 2009. With Setanta’s demise the rights reverted back to Kentaro who urgently looked for a new buyer. The trouble they faced was that by this point England had pretty much guaranteed their qualification for the World Cup and no broadcaster could justify paying top dollar for a game they would struggle to hype up.

With time ticking and negotiations with traditional broadcasters getting nowhere, Kentaro sold the rights to Perform, the digital sports specialist who stream over 15,000 events a year. This watershed decision catapulted the otherwise mundane match into the history books making it the first competitive England match to be screened exclusively online.

Unsurprisingly, the initial reaction to the news was quite negative. Fans weren’t happy that they would have to watch the game on their monitor rather than their 42” TV. With over 50 pubs closing each week, landlords were also frustrated that they were going to miss out on a lucrative payday, though fans were still able to watch in groups at Odeon cinemas around the country. In the end, over 500,000 fans watched the game that was priced between £4.99 and £11.99 depending on when you signed up. A success of sorts though not a huge audience compared to the 8million that watched the previous England match on ITV.

What the anger shown by fans highlights is how quickly we can get used to changes in media and how a novelty soon becomes expected. It wasn’t so long ago that England games weren’t broadcast live at all and away games, particularly those from the ‘Eastern Bloc’ were at best ‘Low Definition’. We have become used to accessing high quality sport via a range of satellite and cable channels. Equally, as we get more and more familiar with applications like BBC iPlayer and an increasing number of mobile devices allow ever speedier connections to the internet the next generation of sports fan might look back at traditional, exclusively offline broadcasting of major events as being as outdated as black and white TV looks to us.

Regardless of the popularity of the decision, the Ukraine experiment shows that live sporting events can be streamed successfully to a large audience. As such we can look forward to more and more of them being broadcast online until it becomes the norm.

Just make sure you remember ‘Ukraine’ for that pub quiz in 2019.

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