If you were to pick an industry which has been revolutionized by the explosion of the Internet, soccer would be it. The irony is that the authorities such as FIFA, UEFA and the Premier League had nothing to do with the sport’s success online. This was entirely a movement by the people, for the people.
Premier League officials would not probably admit it, but the league owes much of its global success to the World Wide Web. When the fledgling league began in 1992, the Internet wasn’t even a consideration. Satellite TV was the impetus, and it still continues to be a driving factor in 2009, understandably so due to the vast fortunes of revenue from TV money that is pumped into the 20 clubs. But the Internet was the Tipping Point that transformed a mere passing interest in English football into legions of cult fans around the world, spending their time becoming increasingly infatuated with the league thanks to hundreds of fan-created message forums and blogs. Satellite TV has been a enormous factor, but the role of the Internet has largely been overlooked by many, including mass media.
Trouble is, based on the imbecile actions of the Premier League thus far, it’s obvious the league has little understanding of how the Internet is changing and how it can generate massive sums of new revenue. They’re too blinded by the short-term benefits of TV license rights that total £1.782 billion for 2010-2013, and that’s just from the United Kingdom. As long as the Premier League continues to focus on the ritual, every three years, of collecting as much TV revenue as possible, the league, to its detriment, will miss out on the much bigger picture, how the Internet is revolutionizing the entertainment industry. And, let’s not kid ourselves, the Premier League is in the business of entertaining.
Rather than focusing on many of the inane decisions the Premier League is making to try to protect its rights, let’s fast forward to three years from now when the Premier League will next accept bids for the TV license rights to its matches. Here are a few examples of how the Internet will have changed most things we know today:
- Television will be unlike anything we experience now. Most movies, TV shows and sport events will be experienced either on mobile devices, flat-screen monitors showing high-definition video streamed over the Internet, or sliver-thin wireless tablets that can be affixed to car dashboards, refrigerators or under desks at work.
- Middle men, such as major music labels and movie companies, will be practically extinct. Why have middle men when you can get what you need directly from the source? Nine Inch Nails has already been a pioneer in the music business by changing the future of the industry. The question is, which soccer club will be the first to adopt similar marketing ideas as Trent Reznor?
- The Premier League will be bigger and more profitable overseas than in England. TV revenues for the 2013-2016 seasons will be greater overseas than TV rights revenue generated from England. If the English public feel removed from the league today, they have no idea how much worse it’s going to get over the next few years.
These three cataclysmic changes — TV being experienced on the Internet, the Premier League being bigger overseas than in England and the extinction of the middle men — will mean that the Internet in 2013-2016 will be the be-all and end-all for the Premier League. Or at least it should be.
The decisions the Premier League take in the next few months when new media rights for the league will be sold around the world will have a enormous impact on the future strength of the world’s most popular sports league. Just this week in Germany, the Bundesliga announced a deal to provide live matches online via pay-per-view. The Premier League and the new media right holders better act fast and responsibly. Otherwise, it’ll find itself trying to catch up with the marketing mavens from the Bundesliga. The challenge for the Premier League, however, will be keeping the 20 clubs happy and not trying to overstep their boundaries by cannabalizing revenue that the clubs could earn themselves from streaming live matches via their websites. But the Premier League clubs can’t have their cake and eat it too. Just as the Premier League is able to generate massive sums of TV revenue by presenting itself as one unified force to TV companies instead of being fractious, the Premier League should be able to collectively generate more revenue from mobile rights instead of having each club fend for themselves.
But, the dilemma is that the Premier League, as of today, doesn’t have the vision or understanding of how to harness the Internet to generate massive amounts of new revenue even during an economic recession. The Premier League has hardly shown itself to be leaders in Internet marketing. Its website, while aesthetically pleasing, has no outlet for fans to congregate online and create a community. The Premier League isn’t investing in communicating with its followers on Twitter. Instead, the league has created a brochureware website and ends up giving the power to the clubs to do a much better job at marketing themselves and the league than the league can do itself.