Is Fergie Right About TV Money?
The old antagoniser was at it again this week, marking his return to the BBC for the first time in ten years with a statement which went to the very core of the modern game.
Sir Alex Ferguson has never mixed comfortably with authority, nor has he ever expressed delight at being told what to do.
So when the fixture list was announced for this season and the Champions League was super imposed over the top, Ferguson decided to bite the hand the feeds him and his club.
“When you shake hands with the devil you have to pay the price. Television is God at the moment,” the Scot told the BBC.
“It shows itself quite clearly because when you see the fixture lists come out now, they can pick and choose whenever they want the top teams on television,”
“You get some ridiculous situations when you’re playing on Wednesday night in Europe and then at lunchtime the following Saturday. You ask any manager if they would pick that themselves and there’d be absolutely no chance.” He added.
He went on to suggest that the clubs should see more of the £3.5 billion generated by television revenue for the Premier League, both at home and abroad.
“When you think of that I don’t think we get enough money,” he pointedly said.
So does he have a point? Well yes and no. Speaking from a purely footballing perspective there is no doubting that four games in eleven days (from Leeds on the 20th September to Norwich on the 1st October) is far from ideal, a point neatly displayed by United’s increasingly extended injury list. Rooney’s new boots are unlikely to be seen on the Old Trafford turf for a while, while Javier Hernandez, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Nemanja Vidic are all suffering the consequences of one too many games.
But that is where yes ends and no begins to take over. Television and Sky have been the single biggest catalyst for change in the English game since the Premier League was created almost two decades ago, and no club more than United have been thrust into the glare of the TV spotlight and reaped the rewards.
The club took home over £60 million from TV revenues last season (the highest amount channelled to any Premier League club), while the fragmentised media revenue stream proved to be United’s most lucrative, worth £119.4 million alone.
But this doesn’t take into consideration the almost priceless commodity in which United trade around the world.
They have a following almost as fanatical in Asia as they do on home soil, a fire fuelled by the constant glow of publicity generated in the area by the presence of Premier League football on television.
The fact that United are seeking flotation on the Singapore Stock Market is testament to their power in the area – one can only guess at how small a profile the club would have in the area and how much revenue lost through merchandise and more if the Premier League wasn’t exported round the world and into the homes of millions by the broadcast companies that Ferguson so openly criticises.
Of course Ferguson has every right to hit out at the fixture list, he is first and foremost a football manager charged with winning on the football field, and if he feels coerced by those above and around him, he is likely to hit out at what he believes to be injustice.
But in charge of a club saddled with debt with owners who are desperately trying to relieve said debt (believed to be around £300 million according to the Financial Times) he may have to face up to the realities of the modern game; his club are in bed with television, and they do pretty damn well out of it, and nothing is going to change that any time soon.
Written by Pete South