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Premier Spurts

There are times when going all “told-you-so” becomes a bit too celebratory, but you feel vindicated in doing so anyway.

Last night, Premier Sports issued this statement on a social media site:

It is a shame the number did not reach the point were revenue sharing became an option. It is also a shame we have learnt the Bsq is not much more popluar than NRL and NASCAR in GB when it comes to people parting with cash to watch it.

We put on Barrow match at last minute as we needed to cover a game and having listened to fans did not want to move it at short notice so it clashed with Barca game. 80 games a season would cost 1.2 million so I don’t think that would work unless you got 25,000 people paying for it!

We never promised a highlights show it was just mentioned as something we would look at. We look and decided at £200,000 a year it could not be justified. Anyway, enjoy the end of the season.

So, Tinpot TV has finally admitted that the game is up and is about to put Ian Snodin on the unemployment line again? Not quite:

Sorry where does it mention we are pulling out or gone tits up? We are going along very nicely thankyou

Somehow, you can’t imagine Sky or the BBC being so defensive.

For the first time since, well, ever, the broadcaster of Conference football has admitted in public that its business model has failed. Or at least not succeeded in the way they expected. While putting such statements on Farcebook is symbolic in itself, Conference fans may be feeling a touch of schadenfreude right now.

Before we get excited, anyone hoping that Tinpot will now jettison the rest of their coverage and burn their HQ in a ritual suicide may be waiting a while. They will struggle on with the Conference until the end of the season, whether we like it or not.

It’s almost impossible to convey why so many fans of Conf teams – their main customer base – actively hate Premier Sports, and not merely find their modus operandi an inconvenience. But when you remember that Setanta did exactly the same thing with regards to rescheduling etc, you start to see why.

Moving games for television is a fact of life these days, especially at the top level, and it has been for a good two decades. The term “skyjacking” has neatly entered into the lexicon of football supporters, after all. But like Setanta, PS managed to annoy everyone almost from the offset, which effectively killed it stone dead.

Rearranging games at pretty short notice, usually at the exact time when people have just got cheap train deals, is always guaranteed to generate hostility. At least Sky and ESPN have the courtesy to do it as early as possible. Add in the 1715 kickoffs on the last day of the season to that, and it’s not surprising that many fans refuse to have Prem Sports on principle.

We don’t know what will happen next season, and it may not even be an issue for us, but it’s clear that Prem Sports are getting cold feet about the whole deal. From a business point of view, you can see why. Covering live sport is an expensive business, that’s why the satellite TV graveyard is littered with the corpses of Screensport, On Digital, ITV Digital and Setanta.

While I would question paying whatever it is for what is ultimately a minority sports channel (and seriously, go on the Premier Sports website and try and find how much you pay per month), the channel could at least survive with relaying GAA, Nascar, Brazilian football and other such sports that they just simply buy in.

Covering live football must be crippling them, hence their statements earlier. And it wasn’t like anyone was really watching them to begin with – your editor saw one game on it (our game at Gateshead), and that was through a live internet screen via a telly. No, it wasn’t the best way to watch a game, and one could easily claim I’m denying the club money, but I doubt I was the only one.

My conscience was well and truly clear.

So, we’re now stuck with a TV deal where the clubs don’t get any money – costing some clubs in fact – with a TV company who can’t really afford to cover it, to be sold to an audience who doesn’t want it and is fast becoming a laughing stock.

For this, the Conference Board has to take most of the blame. It was its obsession to have a surrogate Setanta deal that has left us in this current situation. The Conf didn’t “need” to have a TV deal, if it got one where the clubs were guaranteed a bit of income then all well and good, but nobody really wants to watch this level of football.

Be honest, unless it was a game that really mattered to AFCW, you wouldn’t have watched a Conf game not involving us. You certainly wouldn’t have paid for it specially. Fans in this division themselves know that this standard of football is crap, and you go purely because of loyalty to your team.

One mistake that was made when this deal was signed was trying to big it up as being good for this level of football. From the two years we’ve been in the Conference, it’s obvious that most ex-League sides hate it. Not just fans, either. For ourselves, the division is a staging post, for the push back to where we were before 28/5/02. We don’t have much loyalty for this level either.

And this is why the original Setanta deal was the worst thing to ever happen to the Conference. It tried to create something that just wasn’t there, and gave a pretty vastly inflated sense of self-worth. There’s arguably too much football on telly as it is, and the Conference just isn’t good enough standard.

Assuming Premier Sports do pull out, and their comments suggest it’s more likely than not, this puts the Conference Board in a very bad position. It wanted Setanta Mark 2, got it, and now that’s going down the plughole. What does it do now? It can’t actively pursue Setanta Mark 3, with live and exclusive Conference Football on Davejavu. OK, it could try, but by that stage the men in white coats will be sent to their HQ.

Alternatively, it could start being a bit more realistic about its level of football. If Sky show about 6 or 7 games a season, as it did pre-Setanta, that’s all it’s worth. It may have a majority of ex (continuous or reformed) League clubs, but it’s still non league.

By being realistic, it also means doing what’s really best for the Conference. We’re told that there wasn’t a BBC highlights package on offer when the PS deal was signed. Whether it was or it wasn’t isn’t really relevant – the fact remains that you shouldn’t sign a deal that ultimately costs clubs money and the league credibility.

If there’s no other sensible deals on the table, don’t have a TV deal full stop. This division has survived a number of years without having it, and the only way you get exposure is by either having it live on Sky or a highlights deal on a terrestrial station. I can honestly say I don’t know anyone with Premier Sports, so it wasn’t like the average armchair punter was masturbating over Wrexham v Darlington to begin with.

Should PS pull out, it will be interesting to see how the Conference and other interested parties spin it. It would be pretty humiliating for them, and would put a sizeable question mark over their competence. Sponsors pulling out is one thing, but a TV company pulling out is quite another. Even a small one.

Of course, as far as AFCW is concerned, none of this could matter after the 21st May. By that stage, we’ll be moaning that we only get £500,000 from Sky…