Sports fans have become accustomed, or maybe the better word is resigned, to the idea that they can’t win.
We all know that the only thing that matters to the people who run the games, teams and leagues we love is getting into our wallets, and we’re only viewed as ambulatory ATMs. Which leads them to making our access to the teams that become part of our entire lives more and more complicated and expensive. They’ll start their own networks and force you to pay extra for them. They’ll raise the prices on your seats, and move them farther and farther away from the action. Beer will suddenly require a credit check to get. They’ll charge a semester’s tuition for parking. And when that’s not enough, and it never is, they’ll threaten to leave altogether until you help pay for a new stadium where they can just do all of the above mentioned things to a higher degree, including charging you a personal seat license just to have the right to shell out more cash for an actual ticket.
At times, one can feel powerless and an awful lot like a total stooge. And yet, rarely does anyone leave, because after all, we were here first. So when there are small victories for the little guy, when we finally get the billionaires to backtrack even just a little, they need to be cherished.
Over the weekend, the Premier League decided to end their controversial pay-per-view scheme for select matches, as the country enters a second lockdown thanks to COVID-19. Last month, the league started putting matches on PPV that weren’t already being televised by Sky Sports or BT Sport for £14.95 (or $19.64) a pop. Fans were outraged, as they were already banned from going to games. Now they were being forced to fork over cash for games on TV that had all been aired for free since the lockdown and the return of Premier League games over the summer.
Instead of lying down and taking it, supporters’ groups around the nation organized “Charity not PPV,” a campaign that would see fans of the teams on that week’s PPV game donate their money to charity instead of paying for matches. When Liverpool played Sheffield United, £120,000 ($157,781.40) was raised for a local foodbank. £20,000 ($26,305.30) was raised by Newcastle supporters for their local foodbank when Newcastle United appeared on PPV. Both Man City and Manchester United supporters have raised similar amounts for charities of their choosing. All told, in just about a month’s time, over £300,000 ($394,453.50) was raised for charity instead of going into the coiffeurs of the Premier League.
And now, thanks to their efforts, the Premier League is throwing out the PPV games and putting all matches back on regular TV.
While neither the Premier League nor Sky nor BT will ever tell us how the PPVs did against this campaign, you would have to wager pretty heavily that the returns were meager for them to abandon the plan a month in. Fan groups have said they wouldn’t stop the protests even if prices were lowered, which certainly only influenced the scrapping of the plan even more. On top of the ugly PR, of course. There is an extra element of fans saying they do in fact have the money, they’re just not going to use it for something that they were already getting and will make the rich richer rather than just holding out. And fans are already paying for the cable packages to get Sky Sports and BT Sport anyway. There apparently is a line in the sand.
This comes in the same week that Marcus Rashford, Man United’s striker, was the leading voice in getting the U.K. government to u-turn on providing school lunches for those in need. Rashford has been leading the call since the summer when the government threatened to stop providing those lunches during the first lockdown, and has registered another win here while U.K. schools remain closed.
It’s heartening to see fans register a minor victory against billionaires, especially when those seeking to profit off the fact that everyone is stuck at home thanks to a pandemic that is grossly affecting the working and lower classes far more, both health-wise and financially. The PPV scheme was nothing more than a naked attempt to prey on fans who had nowhere to go, with the assumption being they were so desperate to watch their teams they would just give in. And usually, there is no choice.
But in both this and Rashford’s campaign, sports have been a platform to help out those who need it most, and at least briefly put a thumb in the eye of some serious vampire squids and the “sports don’t matter” crowd.
Take your victories where you can find them.