Greg Dyke on broadcasting

Television season tickets will keep football in the game

It seems difficult to believe that until the mid-Eighties there was virtually no live football on television, just the FA Cup Final and the odd England match. Today a Martian arriving on earth and walking into a house with all the Sky sports channels could be forgiven for thinking that there is only football on television. This is certainly good news for the fan, but is it in the long-term interests of football?

It seems difficult to believe that until the mid-Eighties there was virtually no live football on television, just the FA Cup Final and the odd England match. Today a Martian arriving on earth and walking into a house with all the Sky sports channels could be forgiven for thinking that there is only football on television. This is certainly good news for the fan, but is it in the long-term interests of football?

For the first time in the 12 years since the Premier League was formed there is a view emerging that between them the broadcasters, the Premier League and the European Commission are in danger of killing the golden goose, that there is now so much football on television that it is turning people off.

This season, ratings for Premiership football are down. When it comes to recorded football, the figures for the re-born Match of the Day on the BBC are 15% down on what they were when last on the BBC, four years ago, and 8% down on the figures ITV was achieving last year with The Premiership.

This decline in the audience for recorded football is not surprising, given that there are now four live Premier League games available every weekend (including Monday nights), which means there's virtually never a big game which isn't covered live. On top of that, Sky are running a recorded fifth game "as live" at 8.15pm on a Saturday and at 10.15pm the same evening you can get 50 minutes worth of every one of that day's Premier League games by pushing the interactive red button on Sky.

What all this means is that the days when broadcasters paid a lot of money for recorded highlights are nearly over. ITV lost about £30m a season for three years having paid £60m plus a season for recorded rights back in 2000. Currently the BBC is paying £35m a year, but with ITV unlikely to bid again when the next auction comes in 18 months time I doubt if it will pay anything like that figure again.

And while the big money is still coming from BskyB - £1.1 billion a year - even they are getting matches far cheaper than they used to. They are not paying any more this season than last, but are getting twice as many matches and their ratings are also well down.

But all this will change next time the contract comes up as the Premier League have been told by the European Commission that they cannot sell all the live Premiership rights to BSkyB alone. This could be very bad news for football finances. The reason BSkyB have paid so much over the years is that they have had live Premier League matches exclusively for more than a decade. Take away the exclusivity and they simply won't need to pay so much. And from 2007 that exclusivity will disappear.

So what should the Premier League do? My advice is they should start planning now for the next contract and they should seek a radical solution. First they should reduce the number of live matches available on either free or subscription television to just two a week instead of the four currently available. Next they should set up their own television season ticket system so that supporters of a particular club could pay to watch all their team's matches home and away on both satellite and cable television. Fans could buy that for, say, £400 a season. There would be a second season ticket available for, say, £200 for the fans who actually go to their club's home games and wanted an away season ticket only. The pubs, where so many people now watch their football, would have to pay a significantly higher figure for television season tickets than the fans - just as they already do for a subscription to BSkyB.

Each club would sell its own television season tickets but the revenue for each game would be split equally between the two teams playing the match. Of course over a season the bigger clubs would get the most money, but that already happens with gate money anyway. What these season tickets would do is bring another source of television revenue into football just as the current one is beginning to decline.

New system, old values

The BBC governors have had their day. The Secretary of State Tessa Jowell said as much before the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport last week.

No one will be surprised that I'm delighted their time is up, given that I was pushed out of the BBC by this bunch. But I am intrigued by what system will be proposed to replace them.

Tessa told the committee she wanted a system which was more responsive to the wishes and views of licence fee payers. Fair enough. She also saidit wasn't the BBC's role to necessarily chase ratings. Again, fair enough.

What happens when the licence fee payers decide, by some democratic means, that they want more popular programmes and they want less arts, religion and current affairs? Shouldn't the new responsive BBC take note? Or maybe, in understanding what licence fee payers want in the future, the BBC will have to consider the views of the minority, as well as the majority.

But isn't that what the BBC has always done? We'll all watch this space with interest.

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