At the end of the day, John Henry expects a return on his investment
Much has been made this week over Liverpool FC managing director Ian Ayre's comments regarding the sharing of international television revenues. As it stands, profits from viewers tuning in from Kuala Lumpur to Cape Town are split equally amongst all clubs. Last season Blackpool made the same amount as Manchester United from internationally broadcast Premier League games.
Ayre had the audacity to state what all top clubs are surely thinking privately, albeit with the use of an example which has been used against him:
...If you're a Bolton fan in Bolton, then you subscribe to Sky because you want to watch Bolton. Everyone gets that. Likewise, if you're a Liverpool fan from Liverpool, you subscribe. But if you're in Kuala Lumpur there isn't anyone subscribing to Astro, or ESPN to watch Bolton, or if they are it's a very small number.
Manchester United and Chelsea, taking advantage of an opportunity to stick one to the Merseyside club, have released statements supporting the current shared model as it helps to "spread the wealth." In Spain Real Madrid and Barcelona negotiate their own TV deals, which has helped to maintain the two-horse race that will continue to dominate La Liga.
The fact that it is Liverpool who have opened the proverbial floodgates on the issue has been picked upon, particularly due to the well-known socialist tendencies of Anfield's favoured son: Bill Shankly. Now that the club is owned by "capitalist" Americans however, they have no reservations about attempting to monetize Liverpool's rabid international fanbase.
The £1.4 billion deal runs from 2010-13, therefore a debate looms on the horizon as to which way matters will run in the future. Any change to existing policy will come down to a vote, with 14 out of the existing 20 agreeing to any new motion. Considering the line between "haves" and "have not" sees a firm minority who would benefit from being able to negotiate their own deals (Bolton does not fall into this category), it's unlikely anything will change.
I don't have any particular opinions on this matter, however I think it ignores a significant alternative revenue stream that may not have been relevant as little as 10 years. We're seeing a paradigm shift that is slowly gaining in momentum with media being consumed over the Internet as opposed to your cable or satellite provider. The likes of Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV and other sources can deliver on-demand HD content anywhere around the world to your TV, computer, smart phone or tablet.
Liverpool currently offers subscriptions to LFCTV which is an online service that broadcasts interviews, pre-match coverage, interviews, reserve matches and other video such as documentaries. They also offer full 90-minute replays of every Liverpool match in the Premier League, the Champions League (har har) or League Cups.
I am no expert on existing UK broadcasting protocol but expanding this service to include live matches would be a substantial source of potential revenue. I for one would gladly pay upwards of $100/year for the ability to watch Liverpool matches online for the times I can't make it to join LFC Vancouver downtown at our pub. For fans in time zones that make it awkward to tune into Premier League matches, this would be a welcomed lifeline.
Should EPL clubs share international television rights?
The question is surely whether there are any sort of copyright issues with broadcasting live content, and I'm sure the Premier League would require a cut from any profits. In all likelihood this would also be the case for Champions League matches, and god forbid Europa League matches (which doesn't matter as nobody will be watching that competition anyway).
For the most part football clubs lag behind other corporate entities in embracing the Internet. From a communication standpoint information is released through "official statements" or overhyped press conferences where established ground rules often limit the scope of what is actually gleamed. Reporters hoping for news in the ongoing Carlos Tevez saga have been banned from asking anything Tevez-related during Roberto Mancini's appearances...severely decreasing the amount of interesting things down to zero.
Supporters paying for online match subscriptions could be served with all manner of "exclusive" club information. Special-built "Apps" for iPhone, iPad, Android or any other operating environment will further strengthen that club-supporter bond, something a supporter living thousands of miles away from their "home" stadium will cherish. Getting Sir Alex Ferguson on Twitter is probably out of the question, but someone in a communications role (or failing that, maybe Joey Barton) could help to satisfy fans' insatiable hunger for information via the vast social media tools now available.
Imagine at some point in the future being able to watch Liverpool beat United on your phone while on the bus to work. Consumers are getting more and more used to the idea of paying for exactly what they want and nothing more, something that will make those umbrella cable subscriptions for 2,000 channels redundant in the future.
At the end of the day, as a Liverpool supporter living in Canada I don't want to pay for the ability to watch QPR vs. Blackburn (with all due respect to both clubs). I want to watch Liverpool games, nothing more.