The Super League is the grim end game of the attention economy

The Super League is the grim end game of the attention economy

The teams behind the ESL want to provide more of what they think fans want: more games between the biggest clubs in football. Capture more attention, sell more advertising. Why watch Fulham versus Burnley when you could have Barcelona versus Real Madrid eight times a season?

But, like journalism’s misguided pivot to video, this could all be based on faulty data. The cost of football has been rising steadily for decades – the game has been chopped up between satellite channels and streaming platforms, with the result being that if you want to watch your team’s whole season live on television you need at least three separate subscriptions.

That’s unaffordable, so yes, fans turn to social media to catch up on the action that they’re barred from viewing normally, or they save their time or money for the biggest games. But that doesn’t mean that’s all that they want to watch. On Facebook, millions of people watch whatever is served into their news feeds, so the algorithm serves up more of it, and rewards media companies for churning it out in a race to the bottom that’s great for advertisers and terrible for consumers.

Speaking to Spanish media yesterday, Florentino Perez – president of Real Madrid and Super League chairman – hinted at the logical end point of the scramble for attention. “If young people find football matches too long it may be because they are not interesting enough… or maybe we might have to make the football matches shorter,” he said.

It’s exactly the same misguided thinking that’s led to the creation of The Hundred in cricket – a Frankenstein competition with different rules to the rest of the sport that is attempting to pander to young fans but risks alienating everyone. After all, why stop at shorter matches? Twitter stats show that people love watching clips of goals, so let’s get rid of the offside rule to guarantee higher scores. Skill videos are really popular on social media, so let’s hand out bonus points for the sickest tricks. If the game is still tied with five minutes to go, why not chuck an extra ball or two on the pitch to really liven things up?

Threats of a breakaway league have cropped up every five years or so for decades – and the Premier League has, perhaps fairly, been accused of hypocrisy when its origins are in a similar schism from the top clubs in England (albeit one that preserved the principle of promotion and relegation on merit).

This is all a symptom of an underlying malaise that stretches back at least as long, but has been worsened by the growing revenues flowing through the game. Outrageous television rights deals have modernised football, but they’ve also broken the link between sporting success and financial profit. In the past, the teams that did the best financially were those that could get the most paying fans through the doors – the chairman would splash out for a tricky winger in the hope that the player would get fans into, and then onto the edge of their seats.

But now, revenues from ticket sales and matchday programmes are far, far outweighed by the money flowing in from television deals and lucrative sponsorship deals. It’s what enabled a club like Bournemouth, with a stadium that seats just 11,000 people, to compete in the top flight for five years. But it also brought in a new breed of owners who prize sporting success not as the goal itself, but as a means to an end: win trophies not for the innate satisfaction, but for the marketing boost you’ll enjoy. For them, the real ranking of interest isn’t the Premier League table, it’s the Deloitte Money League, which ranks the richest football clubs in the world.

Published at Tue, 20 Apr 2021 11:26:11 +0000

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