NEW MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON FOOTBALL WEBSITES - Football battles to take control of its internet streaming rights. Streaming matches online is the latest way for clubs to raise cash

No more than 18 months ago, internet marketing boffins were

defending the web for its shortcomings by describing it as being in the

early days of development of model "T" Ford country.



But the web's development has moved on apace since then and now, with

the prospect of broadband going nationwide in the next few years,

marketers are busily trying to get ahead of the game in the latest

favourite net revenue source - streaming media.



Last week's news that Manchester United is in the final stages of a

pitch for the revamping of the front end of its portal could be a clue

as to what the club is up to. And other Premier League clubs have just

started to dip their toes into the world of rich media to see what money

can be made.



Liverpool, Arsenal and Leeds United have started a streaming content

service that now offers match highlights and special interviews. Leeds

have given this added value to fans for free, for now anyway, but

Arsenal fans will have to fork out £45 a year for this new

content. And clubs know that fans will pay, their loyalty is far

stronger than that of any "customer". Clubs also need the money.



Alex Fynn, a former deputy chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi who has advised

a number of leading clubs on media and marketing, explains: "Football is

a very badly run business. Even in the Premiership, which receives close

to £1 billion of income (per year), the majority of the clubs

don't make a profit before tax.



"The reason for this is that while income is going up by 20 to 25 per

cent, wages are going up faster. So football clubs always need money in

the short term. The only solution to their problems is to have

short-term success, and the answer to short-term success is to throw

money at wages and transfers. Therefore clubs are always on the look-out

for alternative sources of revenue - and that's all that this is. They

don't understand marketing, let alone new media."



David Stubley, the managing director of Sportsmedia, agrees: "Streaming

media is certainly going to be one revenue stream. But this will have to

have a lot of added value around it as well, such as archives and other

stuff that cannot be found elsewhere.



"Clubs could make certain games available only on broadband. Celtic last

year ran its first-round UEFA Cup match just online for free, didn't

promote it, and got 25,000 people watching the match through a grainy

picture on a PC. This shows that it can be done even when the pictures

are of poor quality."



Apart from bringing in much-needed cash, this chance to screen games

over the internet could, in theory, cut out the broadcast middlemen and

allow the clubs to own the rights to their games. This might never

happen but the possibility will certainly affect rights negotiations in

the next few years.



"A lot of contracts that are in place at the moment were agreed four or

five years ago and people were just gifted internet rights," Stubley

says.



"In those days it wasn't interesting to think about. Now people are a

lot smarter as the market has moved on. They are ready for this kind of

conversation now. In the next review it will be a major factor in

negotiations.



"Clubs will probably want to keep their digital rights but having said

that, to get the pictures they will need a broadcaster to provide them -

so I would imagine that it will be more like a side deal that will be

done with the broadcaster. Alternatively they might negotiate a

lucrative cartel deal for broadband and wireless together."



Actually, this is already happening. "In this year's negotiations with

the Football League, internet rights were separated from broadcast

rights," David Cuff, Flextech's commercial director, says.



Cuff states that while only a few Premiership clubs have sold off their

internet rights in a bespoke manner to different bidders, the clubs in

the lower leagues have banded together. Seventy-one out of the 92 clubs

sold the internet rights to the internet broadcaster Premium TV, but in

deference to broadcasters, the clubs cannot show highlights in the 48

hours after the matches.



A Premium TV spokesman comments: "We provide clubs with expertise and

management (in these media) and we have to make sure that the clubs

produce the best content - and traditionally they need a little

encouragement to do that. They are doing well but they'll get

better."



Clubs that once viewed sites as a cost centre are now starting to see

them as a revenue stream which can possibly have brand benefits. "With

content focused on the fans, it makes everyone feel both more informed

and included," the spokesman comments.



Premium TV is aware that it is in the early stages of streaming

content.



"We won't get it right at the beginning - we have to ask the fans what

they want. How long do they want the clips? What footage do they want to

see? We are trying to create a good service for the fans with value,"

the spokesman adds.



"So many marketing opportunities are missed because of the inertia and

lethargy of both the fans and the clubs. Now if you get a decent

marketing channel that is value for money then I think it's a win for

all."



Fynn is more sceptical: "What clubs ideally want is control of their own

rights. This is the nearest they have got to it. Rights are negotiated

centrally and deliver them a lot of money - it's the best TV deal among

all the major football countries. But it only covers a small proportion

of the matches and the clubs therefore want access to all of their games

- not because they think they can build a better relationship with their

fan base, but because they think it's a way to earn money."



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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).