And that was the summer that was

A year goes by so quickly doesn’t it? When I was looking back through the articles I’d written for last season’s fanzine, I re-read the very first one when I was facing a dilemma.

A year goes by so quickly doesn’t it? When I was looking back through the articles I’d written for last season’s fanzine, I re-read the very first one when I was facing a dilemma.

Last year it was possible that Ramadan would be still on at kick off against Aston Villa and the prospect of sitting through 90 minutes of West Ham torture on their return to the Premiership without a drink was too much to bear. Thankfully, thinking back to that day, Ramadan had ended and we won that match 1-0 to set us up for a very successful first season back in the Premiership. On the cusp of the new season the woes aren’t so bad. I am cautiously upbeat about the new season even casting aside the rather dire performance against Braga.

Anyway, I sit here as the new season approaches wondering where, exactly, the last three months have gone. Firstly, you guys had a summer. Now that’s something that should be written about shouldn’t it? Barmy days of drinking in the park, jostling on the beach and wearing shorts to work. The summer in 2013 will go down as one of ‘those’ summers fondly remembered.

Secondly, my job changed location. Not such a big deal to you, granted, but for me it spelled the end of 150 mile daily commutes to a much more manageable four mile hike to and from work. And by hike I mean bus journey in 50 degree heat. But the main change in football terms since last season and the start of this is who has the broadcasting rights for the Premiership in the Middle East.

To put this in to some kind of context I need to give you a little background into the various television companies that operate here. I will explain it in purely sporting terms based on the lay of the land as it stood last season. There are three main operators at work here – OSN, Abu Dhabi Sports and Al Jazeera.

OSN is, in entertainment terms, broadly equivalent to Sky. Six years ago they had the three year rights to the EPL. Three years ago, the rights were successfully bid for by Abu Dhabi Sports. Their contract came to an end on May 31. Al Jazeera is probably the broadcaster you are most aware of. Last season, while AD Sports showed the Premier League, Al Jazeera had the rights for the UEFA Champions League, Euopa League, FA Cup, Capital One Cup and English Championship.

Now it was broadly assumed that the set up of last season would be continued this season with everyone happy with what they had. It was noticeable however that no news about this year’s rights season had been mentioned at all across last season. The stumbling block was, of course, money. The situation in the Middle East over the last few years has not been too different to anywhere else in the world and the speculation was, not one of the three was willing to or possibly able to offer what was previously paid.

Facing this issue, the EPL sold the 380 live game a year package to MP&Silva, a media broker who hold the rights to the matches across 40 or so territories across the world. MP&Silva initially tried to sell it on non-exclusively to all three main broadcasters but all three stated that would be untenable in terms of bringing in any kind of profitable revenue to go down this route. In the end, and only quite recently, it was announced Al Jazeera will be showing the matches – at more cost to the paying public, naturally.

So why is this such an issue? Well, firstly, let me try to put in to some sort of personal terms. I work for the company that owns Abu Dhabi Sports. I know (or knew) a lot of people employed on threeyear contracts to provide the local coverage on Abu Dhabi Sports. Endemol had brought in a lot of people from abroad to work on the programming (with contracts ending on May 31st) and thus were unable to offer their employees any kind of news on renewed contracts for the forthcoming rights package.

There came a point where a deadline was reached with no conclusive outcome and these people had to be let go. In a country where there are no benefits if you lose your job, no social security to tide people over when hunting for a new job and in an economic climate of uncertainty with a media industry contracting rapidly, many people simply had no option but to leave the country and hope to find work back home.

Before you go boo hoo welcome to the real world, this leads me to my second point – price expectations by the EPL for the rights in the Middle East are or were beyond any kind of realistic level. The EPL has sailed on the goodwill of the governments of Qatar and Abu Dhabi who, in the first decade of this century, pursued a policy of using sport to raise their global profile which lead to the inflated prices paid and the EPL saying thank you very much.

The gravy train has ended and before this pattern is replicated in other areas of the world with television companies being priced out of the market let this be a warning to the EPL. I simply suggest that the customer must be put first and the powers that be don’t continue to squeeze every last penny out of the loyal football fan. You may put on the best show in the world but it’ll be pointless if no-one can afford to watch it. Politics aside though it’s time for that show to commence so enjoy the match.

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