Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Not over until the fat cats sing - Danny Mackay

The Football Supporters Federation opposes any competitive games played overseas. That was a policy it didn’t need two weeks ago, and no longer needs again now. Or so we have been conned into thinking.

At the London meeting last night the group’s director of policy and campaigns, an Arsenal fan called Steven Powell, admitted he thought it was a wind up when he was phoned with news of the proposal.

What he thought was a wind up was not an overseas game, but an entire new round for the league calendar. You see there had been talks behind the scenes of cup finals being played in New York. There was talk of picking one of the 38 game rounds to be played abroad, with each side losing a home game every other season. That was halted because it would have lost clubs more money than it earned them.

But more important than the long term planning for a foreign venture, is that Game 39 is still well on course.

For my sins I must admit I report on politics for a living. I deal with spin on a daily basis. And not just from government. Everybody does it. Oppositions, campaigners, charities and companies. They all draw up sophisticated strategies for getting their way.

And the Premier League™ is no different.

The strategy team promoting Game 39, of which I’m told there are half a dozen well paid members, have a tried and tested strategy that is working perfectly.

Sponsors and clubs were never likely to oppose an additional carriage for their gravy train. And foreign leagues can be won over with the promise of development funds for pet projects.

The problem was always going to be us fans. And there were three options apparent for neutralizing us.

One was to convince the English supporter base that this is was great idea. That was probably ruled from day one.

Another would have been to present this as inevitable. The press peddled this lie early on, attacking the plans while lamenting that nothing could be done to stop them.

But that strategy had two great weaknesses. For a start it required the deal to be presented as something close to a fait accompli. In an age when whispers and leaks dominate headlines that was probably deemed too difficult. A bigger weakness though, was that fans would still grow angry, would still protest, and still boycott.

So the third strategy, and the one I’d have advised from the start, was to accept the flack. Simply let the world laugh and continue anyway.

You see the third strategy is simple. Make opponents complacent. When the idea returns slowly, minor u-turn after minor u-turn, momentum to protest will have been lost to a false sense of security. Who after all, would join a protest that had failed already?

And so Scudamore accepted the flack. The Premier League™ let the world laugh. And now millions of fans can’t be bothered to protest an idea that the world’s federations, Uefa and Fifa have united against.

So here comes a question.

Are English fans the chumps that spin doctors would have them be? Would they, to paraphrase Bomber Harris, really stop fighting just because they are winning?

Scudamore and his team will need just five countries to sign up. He will also dine with Blatter this week, enjoying the finest cuisine the world has to offer. And in that setting how many will bet on the integrity of football’s world president?

And yet we fans have real power.

This awful proposal came about because foreign viewing figures have plummeted. Before now the world watched for free. But the latest rights deal has introduced subscriptions and pay-per-view fees. The world has thus chosen to watch something else.

Likewise Barclays are the Premier League™ sponsor. And they are frightened. They have stressed already that their contract runs out in 2010, and so they shouldn’t be considered part of the problem. It is after all, so very easy for fans in their millions to choose an alternative credit card and bank account.

But before boycotts happen fans must first show their strength. The sponsors can be hit hard but should not have to be. They just need to be scared enough that they oppose these plans. Clubs won’t risk their bedrock domestic revenues for slim pickings abroad.

And we have the press on our side. They will publish our campaigns, protests and boycotts. They will report on the response of our clubs. They may even fund gimmicks like black balloons.

So here is a final thought.

The Premier League™ is winning. The fans are losing because of a lie. Don’t let spin doctors trick you into surrender. Instead fight and win back a little control over your game.

No comments: