The victory is the culmination of months of sustained campaigning. Back in August, we were one of the first organisations to pick up on the fact that UK-based fans would be unable to watch their team unless it was selected for broadcast as part of the Sky, BT or Amazon packages. We set out the case in item one of our August newsletter.
We raised the issue with other fan groups and the Football Supporters’ Association, with Trust co-chair and FSA Premier League network rep Kat Law rallying support. Kat began to use the contacts she’d built up with TV companies and the Premier League to put the case to #LetUsWatch. Many of you raised the campaign’s profile by putting that hashtag out across social media.
On 8 September, the Premier League and broadcasters agreed to show all games during September within existing TV subscriptions. But on 12 October came the announcement that all further games not selected as part of the normal broadcast deal would be viewable at £14.95 per game.
The backlash became one of the biggest PR disasters in Premier League history. Instead of engaging properly with fan groups, Sky said the price was decided by the clubs, and the clubs said the price was decided by the broadcasters. BT continued its policy of refusing even to talk to fans. And the Premier League said its hands were tied.
With their club featuring in a PPV game on the first weekend of the deal, Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust suggested getting behind the #CharityNotPPV initiative that asked fans to give their £14.95, or whatever they could afford, to their local foodbank instead of to the TV companies and Premier League. Across the country, supporters’ groups took up the call, with fans of Manchester United joining for the game against Newcastle, and fans of Liverpool and Everton – who started the Fans Supporting Foodbanks initiative in 2015 – organising around their derby game on the second weekend of the deal.
The total raised by fans across the country is in now excess of £400,000, and the FSA is going to publish the final total on its website later this week. That total includes a magnificent £50,000 raised for Tottenham Foodbank by Spurs fans, who faced their first PPV game on 1 November, with another just a week later.
In a series of video calls between the FSA reps and senior PL staff, the message from supporters across the league was made very clear. On Friday, PPV was withdrawn, at least until January.
It’s a significant victory, but we know we might have to campaign again in January. And that, even if there’s a limited return of supporters to stadiums in the new year, those fans unable to attend through reduced capacities and medical vulnerabilities, must still be able to watch their team play on TV.
The whole episode underlines some important points. The first is that football does itself an enormous amount of damage when it doesn’t consult with supporters. The past few months have seen an unedifying spectacle unfold as broadcasters, clubs and the Premier League all scrambled to point the finger at each other as it became clear just how unpopular this move was. We were told it wasn’t possible to drop the price. And that it wasn’t possible for clubs to speak out on behalf of their fans. None of that was true.
Incredibly, the Premier League statement ends by saying they will revisit the issue in the new year by consulting broadcasters and clubs. Maybe we will just have to speak more loudly and slowly for the message that fans must be consulted to register.
The second point is that good fan campaigning works. Right from the start of the #LetUsWatch campaign, supporter groups have marshalled the facts, built the case, and worked our contacts. We also made sure we took a position that would get as many people as possible to back us, giving people the choice to show their opposition to PPV without demanding they fall in behind slogans.
Lots of people put a lot of work into achieving this, but we want to give a special mention to our co-chair Kat Law who has led the FSA’s work on broadcast for some years and who dedicated huge amounts of her time and energy to this.
The most important lesson is that fans can make a difference, if we organise properly. If anyone tells you different, they haven’t got your best interests at heart. So if you’re not a member of THST, sign up now. If you are, get one person to join. The more of us there are working together, the harder it is for the people who run our clubs and our game to ignore us.
14 November 2020