The Magic of the FA Cup

As many readers of this blog know, I am a massive football fan. The FA Cup is a cup competition in England that is one of the most historic in the world but it is a competition that has seen better days and I believe something needs to be done.

There has been lots of talk in the press over the last week of how to revamp the competition, with much talk about getting rid of replays but I don’t think that removing replays will do much to breathe new life in to the competition. To me it’s not the amount of games that needs to change, it is the perception of the competition as a whole.

Spin

The BBC and the FA over the last few years have been trying to do a lot of PR, branding and spin to increase the perceived value of the brand with slogans like “the magic of the cup” “Every game’s an adventure” and so on, but I don’t think it is working.

The reason I don’t think it is working is because of what I saw over the weekend. Whilst watching a couple of the live games on TV I saw a lot of empty seats. At the moment people don’t think it is worth paying to go to a cup game but if it was a league game they would. The FA needs to help clubs get people in to games, by offering discounts, working in the communities etc, just doing anything to fill the grounds, as if you see a full ground, it creates more of an atmosphere, looks better on TV and gets more people talking.

Changing the prize

The FA need to change the prize for the FA Cup. If they could negotiate for the winner of the cup to get a Champions League spot, then winning the cup is more valuable. They could make a rule that you could only make two changes from the starting 11 at your last league game to make sure the competition is played with most of the star players of the big teams. You could make it so that the two finalists, as a reward get to enter the competition in the 5th round the following season. More needs to be at stake for the competition to gain value.

To the big clubs winning the FA Cup its not seen as much of an accomplishment any more, as they are so focused on the Premier League and the Champions League, until this mindset changes the FA Cup will continue to be a much smaller competition than it used to be. If the FA invest in the competition they will be able to charge more for TV rights because at the moment I can only see the value of the TV rights only going in one direction while the Premier League and Champions League go the other way.

Know your audience

This week if you follow Premier League football (soccer) here in England you will not have been able to avoid the Diego Costa situation. For all those that don’t follow the Premier League or know Diego Costa, he is one of the top strikers in the world and plays for Chelsea. Diego is a player who plays on the edge and plays the game in an aggressive manner. Last weekend he hit an opposing player twice in the face, was not sent off and in the aftermath managed to wind up an opposing player enough to get that player sent off.

Match of the Day

One of the biggest TV shows about football in the UK is called Match of the Day and it is broadcast on the BBC, which the UK population funds through a licence fee. Match of the Day is a TV programme that is an institution and is one of the oldest shows still running about football, it is a show which is broadcast on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings, it is a show watched by children and families.

When the pundits on Match of the Day had their say on the incident involving Diego Costa they basically passed it off as part of the game. I ask this week – what kind of message is that to send to children? I think this programme has completely forgotten it’s audience; it’s place and who funds it. It has got caught up in trying to create controversy for social media and needs to take a long hard look at itself.

It’s about reaction

It is not Diego Costa’s job to be liked or to play within the rules. He is paid to win football matches for his team. It is up to the referees and media to decide how they are going to react to it. One BBC radio station said that ‘Costa needs referees to keep him in check.’ Again I think this is wrong, it is up to Diego Costa to play the game in the way he wants, it is the referees job to apply the laws of the game.

I have no qualms with late night football shows or football shows on commercial channels and subscription channels reporting on the incident in anyway they see fit as they are trying to get viewers to make money, but the BBC shouldn’t be hunting attention in the same way.

Media

Media is one of the most powerful influencers on society, especially young people so we need to be careful about how we report things. How the media treat the game today will impact on how youngsters watching the game now will play the game in 10 and 20 years to come, it will shape the next generation of British footballers. This is why not just for today but for the future we need to think long and hard about the way we represent the game.

Why I will never understand football fans

In the UK, the football (soccer) season started for most professional teams this weekend just gone. After a couple of months since the last ball was kicked in anger, fans from across the UK were chomping at the bit to watch their favourite teams play, select their Fantasy Football team and start commenting about games on social media.

I love the game of football and have been a fan for as long as I can remember. Like everyone else I had been looking forward to the start of the season so I could start cheering on my team and watch Match Of The Day again, a TV show which is an institution to so many fans.

Dark Ages

Football is sold as a game that can unite the world, but sadly I think in this country it is a game that people want to use to cause divides between them and other fans. In a world where inclusivity and acceptance of people from all walks of life is on the rise (thankfully), I think football is still stuck in the dark ages. It is not deemed as acceptable to hurl an insult or abuse at someone who is different from you in life, yet for football fans it is seen as the norm to insult and abuse opposition teams and the fans of opposition teams.

This is just one of many bugbears I have with the fans of this game. It’s like when your team wins, it is a great feeling and one to be enjoyed but sadly to many this isn’t enough, instead they feel the need to poke fun at the opposition and their fans. As football fans we all know how it feels to lose (it doesn’t feel great) so in the knowledge of this I don’t know why any fan of the game would want to go out of their way to make that experience even worse for another.

School ground mentality

Sometimes I feel like most football fans still have the school ground mentality of bullying and ganging up on someone because it is seen as the fun or cool thing to do. I don’t see why people get their kicks out of provoking people and rubbing it in their faces when the team they support beat another.

I enjoy watching any game of football, regardless of who is playing, just to enjoy the sport. It seems other fans however enjoy watching games that don’t feature the team they support, just to give them ammunition to mock the fans of that team, which to me just seems like such a waste of time.

I just want to enjoy the game and I don’t want my enjoyment of the game to come at the price of anyone else’s enjoyment. I know I am in the minority but I wish more were like me. Sadly I know that insulting, laughing at or abusing other teams and fans is a big part of fan culture, that people get great enjoyment from, I just want to opt out of it and enjoy the high & lows of the season as they unfold. Celebrating the victories, commiserating the defeats, watching great football no matter who is involved and congratulating others when they have success.

Selling the game

It’s been a bad news week this week if you are a fan of what many people call the national game of England, that being football (or soccer for my American readers).

The TV rights to screen games from our biggest league ‘The Premiership’ have been sold to Sky and BT for a staggering £5.136bn, which is 71% above the amount they paid for TV rights last time they were sold. Here is a news story about this development:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-31379128

The clubs in the leagues are probably rubbing their hands together, as this sale of rights means more money will filter through to the clubs, which will make their balance sheets look healthier give them capital to build stadiums, ability to buy new players and more chances to secure loans or credit.

I think the clubs and the league will be the only winners though. To access football matches legally in the UK through Sky and BT, you either have to have a paid subscription or pay for their other products and services. Both Sky and BT are businesses and need to make money from these deals, so that leaves the fans in a bad place.

The Rich get richer

I’m sure the money the clubs make through these deals will keep some fans happy though, as some will use the increased revenues to buy big name players to excite and entertain their fans. These players will get paid a ridiculous amount of money and may or may not bring success to their club. Whilst the wages of the super rich footballers I’m sure will increase with this deal, I’m sure the average earnings of the fans that pay their money to support them won’t increase at anywhere near the same rate.

The problem with the TV rights deal is that it starts a domino effect on the money earned and spent by those in the game, as it filters from Sky to the Premier League, then to the clubs and then to the players. People are already speculating that this TV deal may be the catalyst for the record transfer fee and wages for a player to be broken again. Even though the money coming in may be going up, the costs for the TV providers and the clubs I think will be going up significantly in the next 4 years because of it.

Business

Sky and BT will need to claw their outlay back and this is where I think the fans are going to be hit in the pocket. The easiest way for them to do this is by increasing the costs for their subscriptions and to increase the lengths of contracts you have to commit to in order to watch the games.

The next way they will claw their outlay back is through advertising. I think we can expect to see more on screen advertising during games and coverage, more paid for advertising on their online and social media streams, then finally probably more advert breaks or longer advert breaks in the build up, half time and post match.

Open Letter

Last year I blogged my ‘Open Letter’ to the football world which can be seen here:

https://adamsibley.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/open-letter-to-football-teams-players-staff-and-tv-companies-that-screen-football-in-the-uk/

Following on from this weeks news, I think this problem that I blogged about last year is only going to get worse. Sky and BT will be more desperate than ever for more advertisers and higher spending advertisers, so all I can see is betting adverts around football increasing.

Aggressive advertising

More betting adverts, more aggressive betting advertising and closer links between TV companies and betting companies will only see more people betting on football, which I think is a problem. Again (as I did in my blog last year) I stress that I am not anti-betting but I think for a good percentage of people that an aggressive advertising assault encouraging them to bet, could lead them in to financial problems and addictions.

We need to remember that it’s the betting companies that make the most from gambling, not the customers. Betting companies, like Sky and BT need to make a profit and for betting companies they will have to make more money to afford price hikes in advertising costs.

Pressure

With more at stake than ever for Sky and BT the pressure to make more money has been increased. The boards and shareholders will want to see returns on their investments and I am sure if these deals aren’t as successful for them as they had hoped, that it could have massive implications on their companies and their staff.

Inflated bubble

To fund what is becoming an ever over inflated bubble it will be the fans that lose out. I think for long-term success it is important to get as many people watching the game as possible, but all I can see long term is people turning away from the game. It won’t happen overnight but if we continue at this rate for the next 20 years, I dread to think what the sport will be like.

Competition

Those that know me personally will know I am a fan of Arsenal (an English football team in the Premier League). The team has a reputation for not being able to do what is needed to win the big games and beat the big teams. The team plays in a certain way and never change it, no matter who they are playing. This was up until yesterday, as Arsenal went away to play the defending champions, completely changed the way they play and won the game 2 – 0.

This got me thinking about personal development and competition. To succeed in life you need to have belief in yourself and what you are doing but I think that needs to be balanced with finding the right way to succeed, which may not always be the path, you want to take.

In media and performance art you need to know your audience. In business you need to know your competitors and your customers. In life, you need to know who the people are that can help you get where you need to go. Only a select few people and companies succeed without adapting and changing to beat who they are competing with or to win the crowd they want to entertain.

In all areas of life it is wise to know who your competition is, what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are and how you can beat them or be better than them. With that information you can find a way to adapt and compete, which is what you need to do in order to succeed.

If you want long term success you need to be able to adapt, as the more versatile you are the more problems you will be able to solve and the more versatile you are the harder it is for people to compete with you. If you always do things the same way, you will get left behind and found out.

This world moves at a staggering pace and we need to be able to move with it in order to succeed. What might have worked yesterday may not work today. Don’t forget that one victory doesn’t make success, its what you do after that victory that will determine how successful you are going to be in life.

Open Letter to football teams, players, staff and TV Companies that screen football in the UK

Dear Football Community,

I am writing to ask very kindly if you would all reconsider the level of betting and gambling adverts you display on your channels, social media feeds and websites.

I pay my subscriptions for your channels; I buy your merchandise and pay for tickets to watch games. I do this because I support football, however I am not doing this so I can be bombarded with betting advertisements. I know you are all businesses who need to make money and I don’t begrudge that, but can this not be done at the expense of the fan who is already paying so much to follow a sport they love.

You all do fantastic things in the community, so please don’t forget that community when looking at other areas of your business. Your community is made up of young impressionable people, people battling financial hardship and people who struggle with addiction. Now I wouldn’t say I fit in to any of those categories but it doesn’t mean I want to be bombarded with betting advertisements either. Most of you must have had young people in your family at some point and many of you will have had people you know battle addictions or fall on bad financial times. Next time you think about signing a lucrative deal with a betting firm can you keep these people in your mind and ask yourself if you would want them being bombarded with these adverts?

Could you all also take a minute to think about the long list of retired football professionals who have given us many hours of joy, but have found themselves battling addictions and financial hard times. Can we honour those heroes of the game with the way we display it today?

You have a captive market so please continue to captivate them with amazing games and interesting talking points. The power football has is an amazing thing and as guardians of it can you please use that power wisely. Lets make it a sport that anyone can watch and interact with, without having to worry about what they are watching.

I would like to challenge a club, a league or a TV company to become the first footballing entity that makes informed decisions on what if any betting adverts they allow to be displayed by their organisation and does it with their community in mind, not finances. Speak to your fans and viewers to see what they have to say. Look out in the crowd and see the child going to their first game with their parents, think to yourself – what messages do we want them to see? I would happily sit down with any football club, TV company or league to discuss the best way forward.

To end with I would like to say that I am not for censorship, I am not against peoples right to bet or the betting companies right to advertise, I am for the beautiful game and the supporters who deserve better from the game that they are so invested in.

Yours Faithfully Adam Sibley

Betting and the Beautiful Game

One thing I have noticed a lot this last year is the dangerous world of sport betting and the connection it has with the beautiful game (football or soccer if you are American) in the UK.

It used to be if you wanted to put a bet on a match that you would have to go to a betting shop. Now you have hundreds of free apps at your disposal for your phone, tablet or computer that will let you bet at a push of a button and from the comfort of your own home.

I think this is very dangerous, as now betting has become a convenience thing with no stigma attached to it. With the craze for game apps, has betting online through apps become a new game for some?

Alongside the rise of betting apps has been a rise in the connection between televised football and betting. First it started with betting companies paying for TV adverts around football matches, then it moved to betting companies sponsoring the programmes, now it’s moved to a point where on some games the betting adverts are on the screen when the players come out and you have live odds appearing.

This isn’t just happening for the evening games this is happening for the afternoon kick offs too. Many children and families are watching these games, yet the TV companies seem to care very little. Every year TV companies seem to be pushing the boundaries and finding new ways to advertise gambling as part of the programme, to either increase the money they get from betting companies or to keep their money and not lose them to a competitor.

Throughout any live game you are being enticed to bet. With live odds being shown before kick off and at half time. This is coupled with lots of betting promotions including free bets, cashback and the ability to cash out at any time. Not only do you have all this but you also have a million and one different things you can bet on throughout the game. This is before talking about the fact that you have the ability to bet on practically any game happening anywhere in the world.

The message put across is that betting and football go hand in hand. A message that says betting is part of the experience and will help you enjoy the game more. I remember seeing one betting advert of some lads walking to a football game and they were on their phones putting a bet on and coming home to check how they have done. I have also seen other adverts which are designed to make you laugh and to show that betting is great fun, are these messages we want our children to hear?

Not only are TV channels tightly linked to betting firms, lots of football clubs are too through sponsorship. First we have shirt sponsorship, then we have constant adverts on club websites and their social media feeds. Football clubs are supported by many families, with most clubs seemingly wanting to attract the family market and this is why it is dangerous. Now any 13 year old kid with access to the internet can see that the club they support, supports gambling and is encouraging their fans to do so. Betting on your team is now seen as a way to show your support and your allegiance.

If smoking and alcohol were promoted this excessively around football programming people would be up in arms but for something which can be equally addictive and bad for your health no one seems to care.

Football is a game which can capture the imagination and bring such a feel good factor. It is a game where clubs want to build allegiances with its fans in a band of brothers sort of way, but if the clubs really cared about their fans why would they want to risk their financial and mental wellbeing? To me that doesn’t seem like a nice thing to do.

I think the rise of betting sponsorship shows that the TV companies and football clubs will put their revenue streams ahead of their viewers and fans, whom without they couldn’t do what they do, as no fans means no business.