Anyone for a pay-per-view Budget?

The rest of the nation could learn a lot about maximising income from the world of football
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The Independent Culture
THEY'RE ON to a winner, these football marketing people. You have to applaud them - they are just so, well, brilliant. This weekend we had the first-ever pay-per-view football match on television. Don't worry if you missed it. About 99.9 per cent of football supporters missed it. Just think about the scam - sorry, the cleverness.

You pay pounds 100 a year for your TV licence and expect to watch some football. Till you discover it's pounds 30 a month extra to see the good matches on Sky. Then you have to pay an extra pounds 8 per match for the one you really, really want to see.

The next stage, which they can easily achieve with modern technology, will involve the screen going blank at a really exciting moment. You'll have to pay another pounds 5 to watch. Corners will probably be cheaper, just pounds 1 each, with throw-ins at 50p. You've got to admire them.

The match on Saturday evening was Oxford United versus Sunderland, and only an estimated 30,000 paid up. Piddling, but smart. The football public generally didn't pay much attention. Just think of the uproar if they had started with Wednesday's Manchester United versus Inter Milan game. But the precedent has now been set. Football is on another winner. Brilliant or what?

It was about five years ago that I first noticed something weird happening in football. I looked at Manchester United's balance sheet and saw that they were making more money from marketing football than from people paying at the turnstiles to actually watch matches. That was the beginning of the game's Alice In Wonderland economics. Now they are all doing it. Brilliantly.

At Spurs on Saturday, I paid pounds 2 for a programme that contained five pages listing the firms that have executive boxes or hospitality suites, ranging from BT and Ladbrokes to funny-sounding financial firms I've never heard of. It meant that I was paying money to read a list of firms who have paid Spurs money. How do they get away with it?

I am currently trying to get a ticket for their Wembley appearance. To find out the ticket details, I have to ring an 089I number - at a cost of 50p per minute. I have to send a stamped, addressed envelope for them to send me my ticket. If I pay by credit card, they'll charge me another pounds 1. Now. come on. That is terrific. They are charging me a fortune - in order for me to pay them another fortune. The ticket I want is a snip at pounds 90.

The rest of the nation's businesses could learn so much from football. On my desk I have some stuff about a Scottish Widows PEP. The details were sent to me free, along with an SAE in case I decide to invest. If I do, I'll get a pounds 30 Marks & Spencer voucher. In other words, they will pay me to pay them. In football, you have to pay to pay them.

Also on my desk is a brochure from a travel firm, Elegant Resorts. It's more than 150 pages long, thick glossy paper, very expensive colour pictures. I guess it must cost pounds 5 to print each one. The current Spurs Handbook, which tells you about their product - ie who their players are - has to be bought, for pounds 5. No chance of a Premier football club giving their customers anything free. I'm surprised they don't charge for clapping at a match, or slap a royalty payment on every time we shout Tot-ing-ham or Wem-bur-lee.

Football is not like normal business. It has it made, because we are so stupid, so craven, all so currently in love with the game. Even so, the nation could learn a lot about maximising income from football.

Charlie Whelan recently left the Treasury and has reappeared as a football expert, which pisses off all the old hacks who've been writing away for years. But the movement should have been the other way. If the Treasury had any sense, it would hire Manchester United's marketing director at once. There's still time for next week's Budget to be, say, the Jiffy Condom Budget. Each year, it gets about the same coverage as the FA Cup final, yet they are so dopey, these government people, they haven't even tried to find a sponsor.

When the Chancellor gets to the bit where he says "and income tax is going to be..." the screen would go blank. It would then be pay-per-view. When printed, the Budget would be about 80 per cent advertising, plus lists of sponsors and arms manufacturers.

It's often thought that football people are rather stupid. True, most of them probably think that Adam Smith is Walter Smith's younger brother, or Maynard Keynes is Roy Keane's posh uncle. But when it comes to economics, football folk are so far ahead they're out of sight and practising magic.

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