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Premier Inn

So, after the Setanta debacle that arguably damaged the Conference’s credibility, comes the long awaited TV deal with………..

……… Premier Sports.

Yes, Premier Sports. You must have heard of them, surely? They took over Setanta’s GAA coverage in Britain when the broadcaster went belly up, and are covering Celtic’s Europa League game in Utrecht next week.

OK, don’t get too enthusiastic. According to their press release (via the OS), it will cost £6-99 a month. Right, so if you have Sky Sports and ESPN, you have to pay another £83-88 a year. If it was something like £2-99 p/m, it might be worth getting. But you have about one game a week, usually for two teams who at this stage of the season you don’t care about, so already the warning signs are about.

But then, isn’t this just Setanta mark 2? Let’s be honest here – the Conference isn’t the Prem, nor is it even League 2. It is really of interest to those who follow either a club in the division or somebody who would watch the local park team for their fix. I didn’t even watch half of the Conf when we were in the Conf South, so god knows who would subscribe to it.

Luton Town v AFCW has more interest to the neutral than Tamworth v Altrincham, and even that’s pushing it a bit.

So, what money will we get out of this? By the sounds of it, not a lot:

The uniqueness of the deal over and above the normal rights fee paid by the broadcaster to the competition, will see the Conference receive 50% of all subscriptions once a nominal level of subscribers has been achieved.

No other competition has had this style of agreement before and in addition the Conference will also earn 50% from all internet revenue associated with the deal and allow them to retain advertising rights allied to those adverts shown with their matches. This really is a “joint venture” first in football.

Hmm. Leaving aside that anyone who uses “uniqueness” in a press release is dodgy anyway, this seems like a bit of blackmail. OK, a lot of blackmail. What it’s basically saying is that if we don’t cough up our clubs will be inconvenienced but we won’t get any compensation. Already, Luton fans now have to make drastic alterations to their match at Blundell Park, and I don’t blame them. Grimsby is a sod of a journey at the best of times, and getting trains at 8.15pm back to Bedfordshire isn’t worth this.

The Conference Board will now go around wanting credit for this. Instead, they should be tendering their resignations. Earlier this week, we found out that they’d turned down a highlights package on the BBC. Now, SW19 doesn’t think much of Auntie’s coverage of sport generally, but this is the national terrestrial broadcaster we’re talking about – what better exposure than that?

This should have been a resigning matter on its own. Instead, it got turned down because of the Board’s obsession with another Setanta-like deal. That is just outright shit business practice.

Looking back, the Setanta deal was a disaster for the Conference in the long run. The reason for that is that it gave everyone a grossly distorted level of coverage that, truthfully, this level of football doesn’t warrant. This is why the Conference has signed the deal announced today – it had the taste of regular live coverage and cannot accept anything else, regardless of whether anyone is going to watch it. 10,000  people at most subscribing to a minor sports channel against potentially the whole country? And let’s face it, the highlights are the best way of watching some games.

The division’s best coverage came pre-Setanta, when Sky picked up the odd bits of coverage to show when there were no Prem/Championship/Carling Cup games about. And typically, it was presented well and without much hint of patronisation. It wasn’t over-kill, but it did get casual fans a bit more interested.

Setanta may have shown 60+ live games, but its actual coverage wasn’t that good. While you can argue the toss about picture quality, it was quite gimmicky (to prove how “innovative” it was), with cameras in the dressing room, interviews with the manager during the game, that sort of thing. Next time anyone speaks to TB, ask him if he or Cashy enjoyed having to do it during the game.

The other thing it did which IMO damages football at this level was the incessant way it kept going on about how non-league football was real football. Yes, we got it after the 200th time they said it, and it just simply made them sound desperate. It was the kind of patronising hype that a special needs kid gets to boost his self-esteem up.

And if a culture where the likes of Turvey rule the roost, Boreham Wood can get away with (allegedly) assaulting players, and clubs can get deducted 18 points for forgetting to tick a box, is somehow passed off as real football, give me the fake Prem and Championship any day.

You can bet that Premier Sports will be going down the same route – already, it’s press release calls this deal as “unique”, and makes play of the fact that they “recognise there is a niché market for all football fans who love the game at the level at which the competition plays”.

Funny, the fans of the ex-League clubs seem to hate this division. Oxford fans weren’t exactly sad when they got promoted. And let’s be honest, we’re only biding our time before we get itchy feet again…

I think this deal will be lucky to last the full three years, before we get another Setanta-esque debacle. The TV football market is over-saturated as it is – last night, I had both Rapid against Villa and Liverpool playing some Turkish team. I only watched bits of both of them. I know that if I want to watch a whole game, I can just wait a couple of more days for a contest I’m genuinely interested in.

Premier Sports itself don’t sound blessed with money. Before it went subscription, I watched some GAA on it, and the picture feed was dreadful. And this lifted from RTE. It suggested they were using cheap broadcasting equipment, so forgive me if I sense the Conf games will look like public access TV.

And let’s be honest here – who is really going to watch other Conference teams, especially at this time of the season? OK, you’d probably pay the £7 for our game, or go to a pub that shows GAA, but other than that? I’d like to see Newport play Wrexham (yes, really), but it’s not worth the £7 for it. No doubt that like Setanta you won’t actually be able to pay just £7, and any “mistakes” they make in charging you will take three months to get sorted. As what happened to your editor.

I haven’t even started on getting our games moved…