Today marks the start of a new era for the England national football team. Yes, we all know it’s the first big game in charge for new boss Fabio Capello, but far more importantly to the English public, tonight’s match against Andorra will be the first competitive game that hasn’t been possible to watch either live or as highlights for free.
So while the Capello reign begins, hopefully with a winning start for John Terry and his team, hardly any of the country will actually be able to see it, due to the match solely being available on subscription service Setanta Sports.
Although exact figures aren’t available, at this time last year Setanta only had an estimated 0.1% market share of the audience, and given that it can be expected that that number hasn’t grown significantly, the result is that millions of football fans across the country are left without seeing their national side play tonight. Indeed, it will be the same situation for the crucial match in Zagreb against Croatia on Wednesday.
When Sky have had the rights to England away games in recent years, they have always sold a highlights package of the games to a terrestrial channel (normally the BBC) – a policy which is commonplace throughout sport in order to recuperate some of the huge costs of obtaining the right in the first place. As The Times reports, it seems Setanta are unwilling to play ball with the BBC and ITV though, with any deal between the companies falling at the first hurdle.
As the Irish newcomer looks to establish themselves in the marketplace it is a bold move, for while it makes its package – which also includes over 40 Premier League matches, IPL cricket and PGA golf – far more attractive, it also risks upsetting the majority of its potential customers who are left without a chance to watch their country play football.
While it is easy to blame Setanta for this pathetic situation, you also have to question the root of the problem, namely The FA, who turned down the option of terrestrial highlights in favour of more cash. Yet again money has been allowed to rule commonsense, and it is the fans who are left truly out of pocket.