Fans' chief outraged by internet deal

Jamie Strickland,Pa
Monday 05 October 2009 12:03 BST

England supporters' spokesman Mark Perryman has blasted the decision to screen England's forthcoming World Cup qualifier in Ukraine on the internet.

Perryman called on the sport's governing bodies to prevent high-profile matches being forced away from traditional viewing platforms in future.

International football agency Kentaro, who were hired by the Ukrainian Football Federation to sell the television rights for Saturday evening's match, have acted following the collapse of Setanta, who held the rights to all of England's away qualifiers prior to entering administration earlier this year.

No mainstream broadcaster in the UK met the Ukrainian federation's asking price to screen the match in Dnipro, leading Kentaro to appoint digital sport specialist Perform to stream the match on the internet.

Perryman told the Press Association: "I find it outrageous. FIFA and UEFA should make it a condition of entry to World Cup and European Championship qualifying campaigns that games must be sold only free-to-air, both to the home market and the away market.

"Where England fans are being sold short is not in this instance by their own FA, but by foreign FAs selling the game to the highest bidder, and in this instance it's an internet outfit.

"Arguably Ukraine away was the second-toughest of the away games of the campaign and they certainly didn't expect us to beat Croatia 5-1 in the preceding game and go through automatically.

"At 5.15 on a Saturday night, most of the England fans I know will not want to be sitting in front of a computer, even for an England game.

"A computer screen isn't really something you can sit around on the sofa with your family and mates, so I think the viewing figures are going to be low."

Last year, Perform stepped in when TV deals did not materialise for UEFA Cup matches featuring Manchester City and Tottenham, streaming the games live on a pay-per-view basis through the clubs' respective official websites.

James Richardson will present Perform's live coverage of Saturday's game on, alongside former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, while David Pleat will be part of the commentary team.

While the presentation of the match promises to be professionally handled, Perryman warned that the increasing migration of sports to pay-TV and satellite platforms had damaged viewing figures, and fears the impact of extending that migration to the internet.

"There's certain businessmen concerned with world football who want us to pay for every game we can watch," he said. "There are lots of fans who don't want that to be the future.

"Every single sport that is transferred to pay-per-view or satellite, or this kind of development, narrows the audience, and that cannot be good for the future of the game."

While taking the match away from the traditional viewing platforms has been met with dismay by some, Kentaro managing director Peter Silverstone insists the deal represents a "natural progression" for the industry.

"The distinction between media is becoming ever-increasingly blurred, and your television screen is becoming your internet screen as well," Silverstone told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"Everyone in the UK is watching iPlayer, YouTube etc, we are watching an inordinate amount of content on the internet - 92% of the UK public have a broadband connection over two megabytes.

"People are also watching the television while being on the internet, Twittering etc, so we see this as a natural progression.

"I think in six months' time to a year, this conversation, this hype, will be moot, because we are ever-increasingly watching content on the internet, and an England match may be the first but it won't be the last."

Individual subscriptions for Saturday's match are limited to one million, and prices will rise on an incremental scale from £4.99 for those who sign up before Thursday, to £11.99 for those who subscribe on the day.

The subscription offer is not available on a commercial basis, meaning pubs will be unable to show the match live.

"The access is not for commercial subscription, the access is for individual subscription," Silverstone admitted. "We feel the quality will not be commensurate with the value they will pay.

"The stream is being streamed in 450 and 800 megabytes signal. This will not show well on a large plasma-screen television. It would be better to watch this on a computer screen.

"You can watch in cinemas, we have a deal with the Odeon cinema group across the UK. So the communal element for families and friends to watch the game together will be at the cinema."

Meanwhile, the English FA have reiterated the decision to broadcast the match online was taken solely at the discretion of their Ukrainian counterparts.

"The FA has had no authority over the decision to broadcast this match exclusively live on the internet," FA director of communications Adrian Bevington said in a statement.

"It is the host nation and their commercial agents who have the authority to sell the rights for away fixtures."

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