The Sweeper: Is television coverage of World Cup qualifiers a fans’ right?

Kentaro

Big Story
Have fans become spoiled, expecting every major game to be available for free and in their own language on their home television set, whereever the game is being played?  The patchy television rights structure of World Cup qualifiers — in which home teams sell their own coverage — has led to considerable frustration for fans of both England and the U.S. this week.

England fans will only be able to watch their game against Ukraine online, paying up to £11.99, with no coverage in pubs or post-game highlights available. Kentaro, a Swiss-based sports rights company, apparently demanded £2 million from broadcasters. The Guardian says this is a pivotal moment for the future of sports broadcasting in the UK, with the government currently considering whether to add qualifiers to a list of “protected” events that must appear on free-to-air television.

Meanwhile, U.S. fans are heading back to their dark ages, with their qualifier this week against Honduras only appearing on closed circuit television — bars being asked to shell-out thousands of dollars for access.  As of today, only a couple of dozen bars nationwide have signed up to show it, with some states completely in the dark. Though US Soccer have been criticised for this situation, the decision was entirely down to the Honduran federation, who unsurprisingly could care less whether the game is widely available in English in the U.S. or not.

A solution could be for confederations to manage rights sales as a bloc and ensure they are sold (or resold) to mainstream broadcasters.  This may have a benefit for smaller nations packaged with larger nations, just as collective Premier League rights sales benefit the likes of Bolton and just as UEFA have started centrally selling the Europa League rights, but this would also mean a smaller share for England in UEFA or the U.S. in Concacaf (as well as the frightening thought of Jack Warner handling more money). It would also mean trouble for increasingly lucrative and powerful sports marketing agencies like Kentaro, Soccer United Marketing and Traffic, who typically resell rights to the highest bidder.

Worldwide News

  • ProZone comes to the rescue for referee Alan Wiley, accused by Alex Ferguson of being unfit after Manchester United’s 2-2 draw with Sunderland: the Daily Mail reports that ProZone shows Wiley ran further than all but seven players on the pitch, covering 6.86 miles. Not bad for a 48 year-old.
  • It didn’t last long in chronological time, but the scars will be felt for a while in Portsmouth: Sulaiman al-Fahim’s horrendous ownership of Portsmouth is over before two months have even passed. Unfortunately for Pompey fans, the new owner, Saudi Arabian businessman Ali al-Faraj, is also something of a mystery. The players, at least, will finally be paid today.
  • And Newcastle’s takeover saga might finally be entering the end-game, with Barry Moat submitting a formal offer for the club and promising Alan Shearer will take over again as manager.
  • The future of America’s lower-league structure continues to hang in the balance, as this very revealing interview with the Carolina RailHawks president Brian Wellman makes clear: the prospect of a breakaway by several USL-1 teams remains a very real prospect, though the timeline and challenges remain considerable (Wellman:”the options are: resolving with the USL and NuRock, or forming our own league, or forming our own league and in turn partnering back with USL, or with the MLS, possibly.”)  Wellman should be credited for such an open and honest interview, as fans have been left in the dark by USL’s near-silence on the entire subject for too long.
  • The Latvian FA have excluded Dinaburg from the top-flight, as the fall-out from UEFA’s investigation into match-fixing begins. This will rumble on behind the scenes for a while.
  • A Times’ journalist is wrestling with a dilemma: at Ibrox this weekend, he witnessed a stream of bigoted comments from a Rangers fan during the Old Firm derby. He seems conflicted over whether to report the supporter — and suggests that Rangers care so little to tackle the issue, he may as well not bother anyway.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

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