THERE are two myths that continue to pop up regarding the England/Setanta hoo-hah.
The first is that the FA sold them the rights to England’s opening two World Cup qualifiers in Andorra and Croatia. They didn’t.
The second is that, even when England World Cup qualifiers have been exclusively live on satellite TV in recent times, highlights have always been available on terrestrial TV. They haven’t.
I’ll deal with myth one first. Here’s an excerpt from an article regarding England’s TV rights published in The Scotsman last Saturday:
“That terrestrial channels have been brushed aside in a deal between Setanta and the FA – home friendlies and away qualifying ties will be shown live – has prompted a particularly public backlash south of the Border.”
The article implies that England’s away qualifying ties were part of the deal the FA signed with Setanta. But as the FA keeps pointing out, television rights for World Cup qualifiers lie with the host nation. It was the Andorran and Croatian FAs who sold the rights to those games to Setanta.
Strange, then, that today’s Times should describe the not-particularly-impressive viewing figures of 922,000 as “an embarrassment for the FA”. Only if you’re the sort of person who gets embarrassed by other people’s actions, I would suggest.
Most of those who have written on this topic have at least got their head around the fact that it wasn’t the FA’s doing that Saturday’s win in Barcelona was not available on terrestrial TV.
But there’s still myth number two. Here’s an excerpt from the August 27 edition of the Times, regarding Setanta’s inability to strike a highlights deal with the BBC or ITV:
“The impasse means that fans will be able to watch the [Croatia] fixture — and the Andorra tie four days earlier — only on Setanta’s pay-television service. FA insiders are said to be unhappy at the prospect and the game’s domestic governing body indicated it could not remember when an England game was not available on free-to-air television either live or in highlights form.”
Well, I’m happy to remind them. It was, by coincidence, the first match of England’s last World Cup qualifying campaign. A 2-2 draw in Austria in September 2004 was shown live on Sky Sports – with no highlights anywhere else in the UK.
Does any of this matter? Well, it certainly bothered the small section of England fans who took time out from chanting “No surrender to the IRA” to sing “We hate Setanta” in Barcelona on Saturday. And according to the Daily Telegraph’s Henry Winter, it bothered someone at Setanta enough to turn down the pitchside microphones while said chant was in full flow.
Setanta have a tough enough job as it is trying to establish a strong presence in a pay-TV football market which Sky have dominated for more than 15 years. Failing to sell on the highlights to England’s opening game is starting to look like a major PR blunder.
The myths surrounding their acquisition of the rights to the Andorra and Croatia games haven’t helped them. But they can always take comfort in the fact that one of their chief detractors has come up with the most stupid, crass, thoughtless take on the whole thing that I have come across yet.
Yes, step forward Football 365’s Mediawatch column, which has taken the England fans’ witless “No surrender” chant, put it together with the fact that Setanta’s origins were in Ireland, and come up with a headline which is just downright idiotic.