Who cares about the Champions League?

A stale competition between mega-rich clubs, the loss of the Champions League from terrestrial screens is no great tragedy.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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So, BT Sport has won the Champions League TV rights. Is it a good thing or bad thing? It’s clearly a massive coup for BT. However it also means that Britain’s football-obsessed couch potatoes will no longer be able to watch the Champions League on terrestrial TV. It’s bad news, too, for BSkyB, ITV and Adrian Chiles. As for me, however, I’m in the couldn’t-give-a-monkey’s camp. Not bothered in the slightest. I couldn’t care less if Al Qaeda had bought the rights. The Champions League has lost its lustre for me.

Nobody saw BT Sport’s mega-bid coming. Certainly not BSkyB who were blown out of the proverbial water by BT’s whopping £897million bid, which, to quote BSkyB, was ‘far in excess’ of their own valuation. BSkyB says that it wasn’t prepared ‘to pay over the odds’ for the rights – the BT bid was double the amount BSkyB and ITV paid for the current deal. Is BT on course for a repeat of the ITV Digital disaster? Until we know their pricing model or see how viewing figures hold up, it’s difficult to call. It’s possible that BT is using the deal to protect its share of the broadband market. Or perhaps it’s a more ambitious statement of intent that BT is ready to slug it out with BSkyB for domination of the pay-TV market.

Should football fans really give a toss about a commercial face-off between two telecoms giants? Of course not. The new deal is clearly a blow for ITV who will lose the rights to show European games on terrestrial TV. But is it bad news for football fans? There will be some free-to-air matches on TV, though exactly how many is unknown – BT Sport has only made a commitment to show one game a season involving an English club free-to-air. Gavin Patterson, BT’s chief executive, claims that ‘European football will be far more accessible and affordable with BT’. But until the company announces how much customers will have to pay, either on TV or online, it’s something of an empty boast.

Inevitably, there is a degree of wailing and gnashing of teeth over the loss of Champions League football on terrestrial TV. The Daily Mirror reported that ‘many fans were less than impressed’ – a dramatic claim substantiated by quoting two Twitter posts. Writing in the Telegraph, Jonathan Liew claimed that the battle of the broadcasters ‘risks obscuring the bigger picture, which is that the BT deal banishes regular, live top-class football from terrestrial television, perhaps for good’. Liew also bemoans the social costs of the deal: ‘The poor – a demographic that modern football has little time for in any case – will have to make do with whatever scraps BT sees fit to dangle before them. Football’s new beginning also feels like an end.’ Heart-wrenching stuff. Except my heart isn’t wrenched. Forgive me for really not giving a damn, but it’s hardly the End of Times, is it? We really don’t have an inalienable right to watch football on television. If you want to see a Champions League game, then pay for it. Or go to the pub and watch it. Or find one of those dodgy web feeds and watch it on your laptop. But please, please stop bleating about the rights of fans.

My lack of sympathy for the grieving couch potatoes is only exacerbated by my utter indifference towards the Champions League. Listen, I know it’s the world’s top club competition. And I’m not questioning the quality of the football. I’ll even watch the odd game if I’ve got nothing better to do – which is not very often. But the Champions League group stage goes on far too long and is way too predictable. From time to time, a big club might get eliminated in the group stage, which can be fun. But, in general, the seeded clubs progress to the knock-out rounds without really extending themselves. In effect, the Champions League is 80 per cent cash cow and only 20 per cent football tournament. There used to be something exotic and exciting about the old European Cup. The European teams, the players, the tactical systems – these were all strange and alluring to us. The tournament also felt more open. A Champions League final between Malmo and Nottingham Forest would be inconceivable today. In its early years the Champions League felt novel and exciting. But over time it has become bloated and predictable. The lucrative prize money has created a self-perpetuating elite. The winners are drawn from a diminishing pool of super-rich clubs.

As a BT Sport customer, I should be thrilled at the prospect of Champions League football on my laptop. But I’m not celebrating. Sure, I can admire the excellence of Barcelona or Bayern Munich. But admiration isn’t the same as interest. I have no emotional stake in the Champions League. I don’t really care who wins (as long as it isn’t Chelsea). I can’t summon up any enthusiasm for a tournament which is out of the reach of 95 per cent of English league clubs. And that’s why I’m shedding no tears that it won’t be on terrestrial TV. The Champions League might be the most glittering prize in club football. But it’s dead to me.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter @DuleepOffside.

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Topics Politics


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