Football: Bosses Sowed the Seeds of Digital Doubt; Neville Hadsley Suggests the Football League Have Been the Architects of Their Own Downfall

The Birmingham Post (England), March 30, 2002 | Go to article overview

Football: Bosses Sowed the Seeds of Digital Doubt; Neville Hadsley Suggests the Football League Have Been the Architects of Their Own Downfall


Byline: Neville Hadsley

Football is in crisis again - hardly a week goes by when it isn't - and we have the usual cries of 'the sky is falling' from a succession of football chairmen. Up and down the country they are wailing - but who is culpable for the monumental fiasco that is ITV Digital? Could the blame lie closer to home?

We all know that ITV - in the shape of Carlton and Granada - are guilty of behaving in a way which they would not tolerate from one of their own customers. If you or I rang them up and said that: 'Although we signed a 12-month contract to pay you pounds 20 a month, things are a bit tight right now and we can only afford 20p, take it or leave it,' they would have the bailiffs round before you could say Des Lynam.

But the Football League - and by implication the club chairmen - have a lot to answer for in this deal. You might think that they, as businessmen, had an obligation to accept the highest offer on the table. That was their first and last mistake.

The Football League were, after all selling something valuable - the national game. You can't just hand it out to anyone - however much money they write down on a piece of paper. You have to look at who is buying it, what they are going to do with it. From that you can establish whether that organisation is a fit and proper one to be custodians of our game.

It is clear from the start that ITV were not fit and proper and the Football League should have seen that before they awarded them the rights to our League.

Firstly, there's the question of reception. Not everyone can receive ITV Digital because ITV started broadcasting before they had got the proper transmitter network in place to ensure that there was 100 per cent coverage. When I rang up to try and sign up for ITV Digital, as soon as they heard my post code I was told they could not supply me with a box because reception where I live in Coventry was not good enough. The transmitter, it turned out, was in Essex.

For the Football League to even contemplate selling their 'product' to a company that cannot deliver it shows a contempt for the game they are running. Imagine Heinz handing over exclusive distribution rights for their beans to a company who would only deliver to supermarkets in certain parts of the country. Unimaginable. Yet that is precisely what the Football League have done.

If that was not enough to give the Football League second thoughts, then what about the 'service' ITV were proposing. Matches on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays - and Sundays at 6. …

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