The recent Kilmarnock away game at Rugby Park on Tuesday night clashed with UEFA Champions league football on TV and so for contractual reasons couldn’t be screened live, to the annoyance of many. The Champions league format has itself been in the press recently regarding the idea of a select group of teams forming their own elite group of “Champions league “ teams. In counterpoint to this was the mooted formation of an Atlantic league in order to counteract that idea, for teams who would be excluded from the rich boys playground.
The elite league idea which has been rumoured, appears to be a very short term, business orientated and clique based view of football. Despite the already saturation coverage of the Champions league on TV, the novelty of watching Real Madrid versus Manchester Utd has not faded for me quite yet . However, the thought of watching Chelsea versus PSG does not exactly fill me with anticipation. In fact, the entire idea of a select group of teams constantly competing against each other simply because that’s where the perceived money is for the respective club owners, fills me with one reaction – utter boredom. Where is the audience for a PSG versus Manchester City game outwith their respective cities? These are huge football businesses certainly – but they are not huge football clubs that can boast a worldwide fan base. They simply have extremely rich owners, which has recently catapulted them into the stratosphere of the footballing financial elite. With a select group constantly playing each other, with no relegation or promotion, where teams can only win but never really lose, the appeal can quickly wane. This is an idea that appears to be based on nothing other than the greed of the clubs involved and has the potential to go very stale, very quickly.
The “Atlantic league” idea, on the other hand, has potential. With the possibility of larger, dispersed leagues which includes relegation and promotion, it has the capability to have a dynamism and excitement about it that a closed shop “Champions League” can’t match. Some of the clubs mentioned are huge, with demonstrably large fan bases worldwide. As the core of any TV viewing figures are the club fans, it surely wont lack for appeal to TV companies.
Both ideas have a ways to go, but all this was brought into stark relief during the Kilmarnock game. With the Champions league ties ignored due to complete lack of interest, people were typically listening for snippets of information on the radio while trying to follow RFC twitter feeds to keep up to date with proceedings at Rugby Park; a somewhat painful process. Then along came the information that fans at the game were streaming proceedings live via the Periscope app. Not only that, but that the viewing figures were amazing – nearly 20,000 people were watching a Rangers match via a hand held phone. This was higher than the attendance at the Hearts v Hibs game being played at the same time. The Champions league matches in full HD had been utterly forgotten by tens of thousands of people, in favour of a shaky, dubiously legal,(or so it was thought at the time) camera phone stream.
There is no clearer way of showing that it doesn't matter how much money some teams have, or what league they play in, or indeed if every other game being played that night is blacked out - if they are not the team you support then it makes no difference when people have no interest in watching them. The legality or otherwise of the stream was essentially rendered immaterial because nobody watching those streams was remotely interested in the Champions league ties on TV anyway.
Hearing about the struggle fans had to go through to get information on the game and hearing about the Periscope streams, it could not have been clearer to me that the true wealth of a club lies in its fan base, not its owners pockets. UEFA should take heed.