When you ask most fans what the future of football broadcasting is, many overlook the most important issues of revenue, social media and broadcasting rights.
Virtual reality and 3-D realms are sparking great interest in the world of football and, as technology advances at a faster rate than even before, there is a general sense of optimism and child-like excitement of the unknown.
But this hype and hunger for emerging technologies is overshadowing the reality of future broadcasting. With the internet, we already have the platform that looks to be the next step for football broadcasting and social media is something that compliments this change perfectly.
Ex-Talk Sport pundit, Kait Borsay, agrees with this point.
“I would have to say that the future of sport broadcasting and reporting lies on online and that benefits me.
Journalists are already adapting. Articles are being published online with a more 360 degree element. There are comments, debates and tweets accompanying video and other content online.”
Throughout the nineties maturing markets brought a change in broadcast capacity with the development of Pay-TV. This allowed premium channels to offer live coverage, analysis and further exposure which has helped football become an integral part of popular culture.
The more recent technological advances , the explosion of delivery platforms, and the development of high speed internet connections to the mass market have increased the range of platforms to connect the global audience with elite football on a continual basis.
In terms of English football, however, there is a difficult barrier to overcome.
The Premier League, at present, sells domestic and overseas broadcasting rights collectively. This deal is worth £3.2billion in total to all Premier League clubs for the 2010-2013 football seasons. This figure has risen from £625m for the 2007-2010 seasons and illustrates the sheer demand for England’s elite league.
The next deal is expected to show a similar increase with overseas rights potentially worth more than domestic rights for the first time as the Premier League teams up with 212 countries and its 98 broadcast partners around the globe.
Each team in the Premier League can expect a fixed share of TV deals with ‘merit’ awards for finishing positions as an add-on. This idea is based on the principle of collective selling which means that a side like Norwich City, who could expect to be shown live on Sky Sports just twice a season, would receive the same share of the broadcasting rights as Manchester United or Chelsea who may appear at least fifteen times per year.
This creates a catch-22 situation for journalists. On one hand, only the elite sport broadcasters get to report on the games selected by Sky Sports but equally, the numbers of games that are not broadcast by the media giants require written match reports, analysis and highlights for those whose team weren’t shown live, generating more opportunities.
However, this may not be the case for much longer.
Liverpool FC is one of the first clubs to declare their ambition to break away from the rigid Premier League deal with Sky Sports. Their managing director, Ian Ayre, has insisted that the established broadcasting deal is “a debate that has to happen”, with the Merseyside club in favour of the Spanish model that allows sides like Barcelona and Real Madrid to negotiate individual contracts that dwarf their domestic and European rivals.
Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea are situated in the top six clubs based on total revenue without selling their own rights to other broadcasters or broadcasting content themselves on their own websites or TV channels.
It would, therefore, only take one club to breakaway in 2013 to exploit this vast, lucrative market for the others to follow. This move could potentially change the face of elite football in England with just a handful of clubs boosting their revenues to sky-high amounts of money whilst the other, much smaller clubs, would face a huge loss in revenue from broadcasting rights, thus creating a downward spiral, especially in this economic climate.
Peterborough United media officer, Phil Adlam, isn’t too optimistic for the future of smaller clubs in English football.
“This move would only work for the elite clubs. Ultimately, people are only going to pay for footage of top clubs and this leaves smaller clubs, like us, in the lurch.
If I’m trying to be positive, I suspect that online broadcasting will have a big say in the future for the less supported clubs but it’s a very hard topic to predict and the changes won’t happen overnight.”
This move could become a cause for optimism in smaller clubs. With the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United producing their own content or selling it to independent broadcasters, it would leave Sky Sports with, potentially, more money to spread around.
And, with the online revolution underway, we may see the complete convergence of TV and Online broadcasting.
Clubs who get to grips with social media at present could be more likely to survive and thrive, irrespective of the longer term position of TV revenues.
Sport broadcasting, and even general journalism, is now beginning to build itself around interactivity and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are prime examples of where this idea can blossom. Rather than reading about or watching news and analysis on the ‘bigger’ clubs, fans can ‘like’ or ‘tweet’ their favourite club’s site and even interact with their favourite player or manager.
The social media revolution is in full swing and intelligent football clubs are jumping on the bandwagon. Passionate fans want to be part of their club and these platforms allow this sort of interaction.
Concerns of slow streams and poor video quality online are being extinguished as HD Quality video output becomes the norm and the huge shift to online content is beginning to take shape.
The 2011 ‘Copa America’ was the first tournament to be completely covered online to more than fifty countries. All twenty-six games were streamed live on YouTube and included social media link-ups via Facebook and Twitter where viewers could interact and communicate with friends or followers during the matches.
According to YouTube statistics, the Copa America racked up over ten million unique views and just under 100,000 subscribers over the course of the tournament.
It’s difficult to say at the moment whether YouTube could emerge as a competitor for the likes of Sky Sports and ESPN but this latest move has illustrated that the online and TV platforms are continuing to merge and this ‘experiment’ could be the first sign of a serious attempt at moving live football to the web, with wealthy companies like Google able to rival anyone in an auction for any event.
The positives that journalists can pull from this possible re-shuffle of football broadcasting relates to the sheer rise in their ability to be part of a network or channel that has an increasing amount of rights to broadcast live events across not only England, but the world.
The number of platforms that can be used to generate content for football fans is growing and this, for journalists, is a huge opportunity. Online TV channels, webcasts and online radio, mobile apps and social network groups are just a few ways that journalists can get information out to the consumers but with this huge range of platforms paired with technological advances, you create severe competition.
Citizen journalism is now emerging as one of the main threats to traditional means. Almost every fan now has a camera, a mobile and access to the internet which is all that is needed to produce content for others to consume, and most of the time, for free.
This adds to the competition for people’s attention which is constantly exploding as choices grow and a multitude of options are created for football fans. This causes a radical fragmentation of audiences driven by explosion in media consumption offerings.
Added to this, some TV networks that are late to join the online revolution face declining revenues as the vast amount of advertising moves online. Contrary to this though, there will always be a demand for quality journalism that the audience can trust.
News breaking on social media sites and citizen journalism blogs cannot necessarily be trusted or go into very much detail and so the professional journalist will always have the upper hand in that department.
ITV Sports Reporter, Andrew Lindsay, believes that there is nothing to worry about.
“Everyone now thinks that they are a journalist without learning the craft or knowing the law. The whole ‘citizen journalism’ situation will level off. The job just gets more multi-task for journalists in this day and age.
I think that smaller clubs will suffer in this revolution though. They’re always up against it the more the game worships money.”
Without attempting to create massive hype and panic amongst smaller clubs, it looks more likely that the future of football broadcasting lays online and TV broadcasters like Sky Sports may have to make radical changes if they are to remain at the very summit of the football market.