Tuesday 2 June ~

Shortly after the Premier League was formed, Brian Glanville christened it the Greed is Good League as a way of reflecting how professional football in England was being warped by the pursuit of money. Seventeen years on, our clubs feel obliged to make money wherever they can, from copyrighting fixture lists and threatening legal action against non-profit-making websites that reproduce them, to charging fees for photographs of their staff – as Chelsea did yesterday when parading their new manager.

Andrey Arshavin was going to feature on the cover of the first WSC of 2009 – but we couldn't afford him. Arsenal had done an exclusive deal with a photo agency that took one picture of the player, still in Russia at the time, holding up an Arsenal shirt. Anyone who wanted to use the photo had to pay a fee to Arsenal of roughly ten times what we would pay for the use of one image. At this point Arshavin hadn't played a League game, so there were no other photos of him in an Arsenal shirt owned by any of the other picture agencies. (The replacement joke was better anyhow.)

Yesterday Chelsea made the same demand to the daily newspapers. To get a picture of Carlo Ancelotti with his team's shirt would cost £500. Over the preceding two days, the media coverage of Chelsea's FA Cup victory had given the club a huge amount of positive publicity for free. Images of their players with the trophy, even if they looked only mildly interested, would be seen all over the world and would surely help to boost sales of merchandise in the various expanding markets in Asia about which Peter Kenyon is so excited. But they still feel compelled to squeeze a profit at every opportunity.

The clubs know that newspapers won't balk at such bullying because comprehensive football coverage is deemed to be an important part of their daily sales, for broadsheets as well as tabloids. On this issue supporters might not feel much sympathy for the large media conglomerates that mostly offer uncritical coverage of football. But this is part of a broader trend towards clubs extending control over all aspects of their daily business and shutting out independent media sources such as individual freelance photographers or small local picture agencies. For several years now, anyone wanting to take matchday pictures inside a Premier League or Football League ground has to acquire an annual licence, which can be withdrawn if their published work is deemed to have caused offence in some way.

As football developed over a century clubs were an accessible part of their local and regional communities. But as some have attempted recently to become worldwide entities they have taken on a much more authoritarian outlook. As many business failures over the last few months have shown, global isn’t necessarily good.

Comments (3)
Comment by diggedy derek 2009-06-02 17:46:52

Good read this. And quite surprising – if the premier league is The Best League In The World, perhaps media organizations are happy to pay, but you'd think it would make them vunerable to being undercut by an enthusiastic, media-friendly publicity push from La Liga (say). And what really are clubs going to make from photos of new players compared to the money of, say, television deals?

If the premier league knew what was good for it, it would ensure clubs gave these publicity materials for free. As it is, such ill thought-out charges are symptoms of a bloated industry which might be heading for a reality check. Perhaps no bad thing.

Comment by vennegoor strokes 2009-06-03 01:00:56

Horrifying stuff.

Celtic tried to pull this stunt in 2002, demanding the commercial rights to whatever pictures were taken of games, and saying they wouldn't hand out passes to photographers otherwise.

The test case was a friendly against Ajax -- some papers ran a match report with blank spaces where the photos would have been, and the other papers didn't cover the game at all. Celtic quickly dropped the idea.

Images here:

Comment by jackofalltrades 2009-06-03 11:20:22

Really good article, and a fantastic combative approach from the Scottish Mirror.

This whole 'licensing' thing is very worrying - more and more, our clubs behaviour is a twisted version of the 'franchises' in the States.

Incidentally, I was thinking how the press could get their own back, by charging the clubs for THEIR photos (obtained free-of-charge) of various players falling drunkenly out of nightclubs...and then I realised that they call that blackmail..

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