Watch Empty Football on TV and fans are forgotten…

Football without fans is nothing, right?

Watch Empty Football on TV and fans are forgotten…

Watch Empty Football on TV and fans are forgotten…

Well, maybe. But when it comes to the Premier League, it rather depends where those fans are. In the ground, or at home?

‘Football without TV money is nothing’ – that would be a far more accurate statement. Literally nothing. It ends. At least in the form we have come to know it.

But it can most certainly do without us in the stadium. So much so that if TV keeps paying, no-one ever needs to enter a Premier League stadium again.

The only reason the Premier League is about to return to empty stadia is because football just couldn’t work out how to go on paying an average of £61,000 per week into players’ pockets without it being on TV, thus enabling them to get the TV money cheque. So, on TV it has to be, by any means necessary. Suddenly, an agreement was struck. Of course, it was.

Fans will be absent, but still the game goes on, which rather well illustrates the position in the food chain for Premier League game-going supporters.

When the money monsters that drive top-flight football forward realise that the clubs don’t have to play in front of people and can still get plenty of TV money, why should they ever be keen to get the filthy public into expensive stadiums again?

Think of the money that could be saved without fans being there. No policing to pay for, no stewards, no cleaning staff, no pizza purveyors. No stands to maintain. No rubbish to be collected. Think of all those minimum wage packets that could be saved and given instead to players to top up those £61,000 average weekly wages.

I’m being flippant, of course, but there is a lot of truth in this.

It’s long been noted that match-day income for the Premier League is one of the least important sources of cash, or ‘income streams’ as we might call it if we were trying to be intellectual. Let’s take Newcastle United, Swiss Ramble last year calculated match-day money was worth £23.9million to the Mags – 19th highest in the world, apparently.

But that is just over half of one Joelinton. So, to put it into perspective, if Newcastle don’t buy Joelinton, and don’t have any fans in the ground all season long, they’d be £17.1million better off.

Football clubs’ finances are so warped, so perverted by massive transfer fees and wages, that it has made income from attendees look, if not insignificant, then like all that loose change which spills out of your pockets and under the bed as you try to remove your jeans after three bottles of wine.

While the corporate cash dispenser that is Manchester United might miss the £110million per season from game days, by the time they’ve deducted the match-day costs of £24.2m in 2018, and property and smaller general costs of £21.6m, that shaves about £46million off their expenditure, leaving them only about £64million worse off, or the cost of one Angel Di Maria’s transfer fee plus wages. Stop routinely overpaying for players that are not suitable and you can play in front of an empty Old Trafford and be no worse off. After all, their huge fanbase almost always only sees them on TV anyway.

For Premier League clubs with far smaller gate receipts the disparity between TV rights income and match-day incomes is huge. Bournemouth’s approx £5million match-day revenue per season is dwarfed by the £100-£130million income they get simply for taking part in the Premier League.

Financially, supporters who attend Premier League games have never been less important. So as soon as the lockdown happened, the question wasn’t when fans could return; it quickly became whether income from broadcast rights could be maintained at – or about – the current level to make sure that £61,000 average wage can still be hosed into players’ pockets. Because if the last two months has taught us anything, that’s by far the most important thing and absorbs about 75% of all their income.

If in the coming live football splurge, the numbers watching at home remain similar to those watching with fans present, then logically, it is of the same financial value to the broadcasters. If the viewing figures look healthy, the Premier League has a good case to put that those rights are worth something similar to before. And then the whole appalling hot mess can keep on rolling even without fans in stadiums. We might want to consider that before paying to see any of it.

As long as the money keeps flowing, the party will go on, but we’ll never get an invite as long as the waterfall of cash continues without us shuffling through turnstiles. We can still buy the cheap shoddy official merchandise made for a few pennies and sold for many pounds on the website. The noodle partners still get their exposure to a global TV audience. Betting can go on as normal. Yeah, no fans but so what? No-one important in the Premier League equation loses.

Match-going fans have already been summarily dismissed as largely irrelevant to the real needs, the real needs being the trousering of cash by players, managers and executives. No talk here about the need for match-day income like lower down the pyramid. That mass gatherings have been banned is pretty much irrelevant in the Premier League. But if it continues on its merry way, pockets stuffed with broadcast rights money, smug, self-satisfied and wealthy, even though no-one is in stadiums, what will that do to our self-worth as supporters?

We thought they needed us. We thought they wanted us. We thought they respected us.

But they didn’t and they don’t. They’re getting along fine without us.

We don’t want football to explore ways of replacing in-stadium atmosphere. Not too much, anyway. @F365.

— Seb Stafford-Bloor (@SebSB) May 29, 2020

How can we go on deluding ourselves that supporters in grounds matter when they’re playing without us, merely to make rich people even richer via rights revenues? That’s the measure of how much we matter. They’ve prioritised their own wealth above everything, so the show must go on, not for us, but for them. Unlike lower down the pyramid, we, the turnstile pushing masses, have been easily and effortlessly cast aside. No fans? No problem. And that’s precisely because we only have any financial importance to the Premier League when we’re at home watching television.

But if we decide we don’t want to watch Empty Football on TV and viewing figures for games without crowds are terrible and it turns out TV viewers need to see and hear fans in the grounds in order to be prepared to pay to watch, then how about clubs start making tickets free? How about they stop taking the financial pish out of us? Because at that point, the value of our presence will be clear and obvious to them. No fans. No TV money. As I say, we might want to think about that in our decisions of what to watch on and which channels.

As ever, collectively we have ALL the power. Let’s understand where we are, how we are seen, how we are being used, how we spend our money and let’s exercise that power to best effect for a better future.

John Nicholson

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