Football: Bates dismisses football's poor

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The Independent Online
KEN BATES, the Chelsea chairman responsible for increasing ticket prices at Stamford Bridge to the highest levels in the country, said yesterday that "poverty among football fans is greatly exaggerated." His comments came on the same day that he accused other Premier League clubs of selfishness and said that they "don't give a damn about anyone else."

Bates was speaking in London as a witness in the landmark court case that will decide whether the current television deals between the League, Sky TV and the BBC are illegal. The Office of Fair Trading maintains that the deals - which forbid the clubs from making individual television deals with broadcasters - are not in the public interest and that the public should have a wider choice of televised football.

When asked why individual bargaining would be bad for the game, Bates - called as a witness by the League - said that some clubs would ignore their responsibilities to the wider game to try to cash in on their popularity. Providing an example of a club which, in his opinion, would exploit such a situation, he said: "Manchester United are only interested in Manchester United."

When asked whether Chelsea - where the cheapest season tickets next season will be around pounds 525 - was an expensive place to watch live football, Bates said: "It is, because we are the most expensive club in the country to run."

Geoffrey Vos, QC, representing the OFT, then suggested that if clubs were allowed to negotiate individual television deals, broadcasters would be able to show games to viewers at home who cannot afford to attend matches. Vos asked Bates if he agreed that some supporters could not afford tickets. "They can afford to attend but they can't get the tickets [because the games are so popular]," Bates said. "Poverty among football fans is greatly exaggerated." When pushed on the point that there might be supporters so genuinely poor that they cannot afford football tickets, Bates said: "[They are] such a minority that it's not worth taking into consideration [in this case]."

When asked whether he had been approached last year by Media Partners (the Milan-based company which was planning an elite European super league) Bates confirmed that he had been involved in negotiations with the company, but said that he had made it clear that his club would only take part if they could also remain in the Premier League. His club was concerned, he said, about the well-being of the game as whole.

Bates later cited an informal organisation of League clubs, which he said was formed in the early years of the revamped top flight and was known at the time as the "Platinum Club." He said this organisation of six "big" clubs - including Arsenal but not Chelsea - had wanted to influence the way the League was run for their own gain, but that their plans had come to little in the face of opposition from the majority of other clubs. "There are [still] a number of clubs in the Premier League who don't give a damn about anybody else," he added.

Asked about current League football on television - 60 live Sky games and highlights on the BBC - Bates said: "I regard it as satisfactory and I would not like to see it increased." He added: "If you overexpose any sport, it ultimately gets killed off ... The spectators [watching at grounds] are to be considered the most important and the couch potatoes must come second."

Bates conceded that League football on pay-per-view television was inevitable at some stage in the future. "The Premier League wants to make sure it [pay-per-view] doesn't become the tail that wags the dog," he said. He added that one pay-per-view experiment, suggested by Sky, had already been rejected while the implications, including revenue distribution, were considered. The case continues.