All Just a Case of History Repeating?

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I have a confession to make: I have watched live, streamed, premier league football on my laptop. There, I’ve come clean and I feel better now. You see, I’m a Sunderland supporter, and nobody ever screens Sunderland games live, so this is the only way I can watch them. According to most of the popular press, people like me are in danger of bringing down the whole business model of the Premier League, putting Wayne Rooney’s modest salary at risk. Excuse me? This is the same Premier League that recently negotiated eye-watering agreements with Sky, and others, to broadcast football around the world, so supporters in Bangkok, or San Diego can watch Sunderland games live, but I can’t in the UK. But now they’re going to follow the lead of the music industry and ‘get tough’ with pirates. Here are a few points I humbly offer for their consideration:
Point #1: Stop calling them pirates. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: they’re not threatening oil tanker crews at gunpoint, demanding ransoms. They’re a bunch of enthusiasts working, largely for no remuneration, in order to provide a service to football fans around the world who don’t want to wait until Saturday evening to watch their team’s highlights slot on TV.


Point #2: Don’t waste your time, money and energy in closing them down, because as quick as you close one down, another one springs up in its place – usually in countries where you have no legal jurisdiction anyway. The technology is so easy and ubiquitous that it’s pointless trying to ‘outlaw’ these people.

Point #3: Stop creating business models based upon what you want to deliver, and start following the crowds. People want to watch live football on the web for the same reasons they used to download music illegally – because it’s immediate, it’s convenient, it’s personalised (I don’t really want to watch Aston Villa play Burnley, I’m only interested in my team) and there is no legal alternative. I’d happily pay, say, £50 a season to be able to watch my team’s games live – preferably on both laptop and TV, so that it won’t matter if I’m at home or not. So, I suspect would the hundreds of thousands of Sunderland fans around the world (no, honestly, there are, I’ve counted them…). Some of the more enterprising pseudo-illegal sites offer a blanket subscription model, but it would be easy to tailor it to individual requirements.

If the Premier League is really interested in learning the lessons from the music industry, it needs to remember the Canute-like way that record companies tried to hold back consumer demand for convenience and immediacy for years, until it finally accepted that a personalised, subscription model, was what we all wanted, and it set about re-building the business model. For the PL to do this wouldn’t stop people from experiencing football in person (just like the explosion in attendances at festivals and gigs at the same time as downloading was booming).

It’s easy, guys: just give the customer what they want, and stop trying to outlaw those who are doing it already.

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