Saturday, 20 June 2009

Setanta and the myth of the market

When Setanta's UK operations started they fairly quickly found a niche (much as Eurosport, which everyone now forgets was the first sports channel Sky ever had anything to do with, has done in recent years) - the Scottish Premier League augmented by a range of European football beyond anything any UK broadcaster had ever got together before (the top divisions of Italy, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal were all shown at one point) and by relays of RTE's GAA coverage (which was the reason why my father subscribed). They had a raison d'etre. They had a position, and (better still) one which reflected the much greater European feeling and awareness of the Celts compared to the English. That's supposed to be what the modern-day market economy encourages.

Unfortunately, in practice, it doesn't. The system that theoretically encourages diversity in reality merely encourages smaller companies to make desperate attempts to copy larger ones, and when they inevitably fail merely reinforces the logical end of the alleged free market, namely oligopoly. ITV found that out some years ago when, instead of having the sense to create something akin to what Freeview has become now, decided instead (mainly out of a desperate and self-destructive hatred for Sky which had festered throughout the system since ... well, since at least 1989, really) to attempt to build another Sky Sports on the second tier of English football, and feigned shock when it failed.

In the case of Setanta, what they thought would be their route to status as a genuine competitor to the oligopoly in their particular field began - ironically - as an indirect result of the very same factors which for some of us give Michel Platini all the justification he needs; namely the fact that, in the context of the involvement in Europe of the political state dominated by England, Sky money is blood money. Anyone who understands how international politics work knows that the EU's insistence that no one company could own all six packages of live Premier League games had more to do with a completely justified wariness of precisely what Sky represents, and where its money is coming from, than anything else. The problem is that the very system that has elevated Sky to its current status - a system which the EU if anything currently intends to further institutionalise - cannot really stand competition (a natural aftereffect of the UK's inability to reach a halfway house during the 1970s, and the way it was all thrown away when it had almost been arrived at).

Armed with its 46 Premier League games, Setanta then started to acquire as much sport as it could from under the noses of Sky, often sport which could not be more now, more part of the rules of big business and post-colonial rules-reversal (most obviously the Indian Premier League). It is true that the economy had yet to fall off a cliff at that stage, but the warnings were there, and right from the start Setanta ran the very serious risk of being beaten by the very game it was now playing. That which is supposed to empower minorities all too often ends up merely reinforcing the tyranny of the majority.

The company's likely fate is yet further proof of the truth that unfettered market capitalism doesn't even work by its own criteria. Quite apart from anything else, it could have severe political implications. For a company of Irish origins to indirectly bring about the financial ruin of Scottish football clubs through its obsessive chasing of the English market, at a time such as this, could go quite some way to further unbalancing the Union.

Incidentally, considering how little ITV seem to be interested in him, the BBC should really get Jon Champion back. Like Barry Davies before him, he pisses off pseudo-rebellious inverted snobs so much that he really has to be defended - no commentator who angers those who regard a command and knowledge of their own language as actually A Bad Thing can be without merit, and Champion has a scope of knowledge and awareness of both the game and the wider world far beyond most of his contemporaries.


  1. The news of the prospective buyers seems to feed into your argument well. It could all have been predicted!

  2. Indeed. The EU's specific intent was, I am sure, to give a non-American broadcaster (Sky *is* American, to all intents and purposes, whatever smokescreen may be erected around it) a foothold. Now we have ESPN, which doesn't even bother to use a different name here (which is at least more honest) and in all likelihood the Bundesliga etc. have gone for good, unless Sky pick up desultory highlights such as they used to ... the whole business sums up just what those of us who believe in a European vision are up against, and confirms that the system which is supposed to extend "choice" ends up doing precisely the opposite in most cases.

    An eventual forced exile of English football to CONCACAF grows ever more likely ...