It got me thinking, why does the ‘EPL’ push so hard against social and technology in general, when so many of its fans clearly love it?
What am I talking about? Well, news that the English Premier League - the richest football league in the world - was banning Vine highlights (recording footage of matches and sharing it on Twitter's micro video platform) broke on Friday 15th August, a day before the start of the 2014/15 season and I think it’s quite frankly a rubbish decision. I don't know if this was an intentional tactic to bury bad news or a poorly planned knee-jerk reaction to media partner demands. Either way, I think it's a short-sighted, 'unpoliceable' (feel like this should be a real word) own-goal that will further alienate the fans that line the EPL's pockets. More than that, I think it's a missed opportunity and another shining example of how the industry misunderstands the power of social media and technology.
I love football and I think that the Premier League is by far the best league in the world when it comes to intensity, unpredictability and drama. I'll also be honest and say that I sometimes struggle to identify the lines between the Premier League, The FA and FIFA.
So I'm going to question some of the decisions made within the sport as a whole (clubs banning players from Twitter, individuals trying to sue entire platforms, the continued push back against 'in game' technologies, the banning of iPads from grounds and of Vine highlights) rather than direct my comments towards any one governing body.
Regarding the Vine matter, no sooner had the Premier League announced its banning of sharing highlights, than it confirmed that it wouldn't sue individuals who share videos showing live footage of football games. That's because the policy is unpoliceable (I’m going to keep using it - it worked for Ian Dowey’s ‘bouncebackability’). It is planning however to have unofficial clips taken offline.
Unofficial clips? I have no idea how many such clips exist online, but a quick Google search threw up more that half a million search results. Removing unofficial clips from the Internet will not be a small job, of that I'm sure. And for what? Because a few newspapers have paid millions for the exclusive rights to highlights.
I understand how these kinds of deals work and the importance of keeping the paymasters happy, but someone somewhere when signing the contracts must have known that unofficial clips of sporting events are par for the course in today's digital landscape. If anything, they could have used that fact to drive down the costs of 'exclusivity' because clearly there is no exclusivity in sporting clips, as there is no exclusivity in celeb snaps, music, film. Exclusivity, like privacy, is a relic of a quaint and distant past - a time when football boots came only in black.
So... Ryan Giggs tried to sue Twitter, (as a Welshman and a Utd fan it pains me to finger Ryan...so to speak), Man Utd have banned iPads from Old Trafford, goal line technology was only begrudgingly implemented recently and now we have the disappearing spray (effective but more than a little comical).
In the meantime, outside of the bubble that is Premier League football, tennis has been using line review systems for years, the NBA uses replay vision to review 'last touch' decisions in the final two minutes, cricket has hawk-eye, hot spot, and even the old favourite snicko, rugby league - uses the video referee to help adjudicate questionable tries and even Aussie Rules Football - the most Neanderthal (but entertaining) of all sports uses the umpire review system and video evidence via multiple camera angles.
This willingness (or need) to embrace the brave new world spans industries, making the Premier League's stubbornness all the more surprising. Instead of clamping down on the little guys, the easy targets, why not look for ways to embrace the huge community that exists as an ecosystem of the Premier League? These are people addicted to the drug the EPL peddles and there must be a way to harness that dependency, to further the reach of English soccer's premium competition. Clubs travel to all corners of the earth during pre season with that very aim in mind and yet the Premier League wants to stop the global sharing of its very elixir?
Removing unofficial goals from the Internet? I remember when people started receiving letters and threats of court for downloading music. The threats happened too irregularly to make an impact on anyone other than the recipient and the initiative seems to have fizzled out after a few example cases. What did happen though is this... the industry changed the way it did things. Here are the best examples:
Columbia, a label more closely identified with the old-school music business made two strategic bets in 2013. Without any previous promotion, Beyonce's surprise self-titled release dropped at midnight on December 13th and sparked a social media frenzy that turned into downloads and rocketed it to No. 1.
Spotify has essentially trained roughly 25 million people to pay for streaming music rather than pirate it for free.
Soundcloud became the YouTube for budding producers, musicians and established acts alike and Shazam became the number 1 music discovery platform. What do us footy fans get? Disappearing shaving foam!
My point is this... there’s an army of football fans, tooled up and ready to share the EPL with the world. The league is the richest globally and under no threat of going bust. Grounds are regularly packed to the rafters and season ticket sales are hard to come by for many fans (either because they’re pricy or gone as soon as they hit the ‘shelves’). So what’s to gain by clamping down on Vine highlights?
Am I missing something here? Or is the Premier League?