TV is God – and it’s not paying enough, says Fergie
Alex Ferguson bemoans Premier League’s pact with broadcasters and says they should be paying more
JUST when television and Alex Ferguson appeared to be the best of pals again, the Manchester United manager has launched a furious broadside at the power of broadcasters.
It was only last month that the fiery Scot made his peace with the BBC after a seven-year stand-off caused by a Panorama programme that cast aspersions on the business practices of his agent son Jason. In the intervening period Ferguson refused to speak to the Beeb before finally relenting in a ceasefire brokered by BBC director general Mark Thompson.
But the rapprochement has proved short-lived and in exclusive interview with BBC North West Tonight, broadcast on Monday evening, Ferguson claimed television was a malignant influence on football. "When you shake hands with the devil you have to pay the price," he said. "Television is God at the moment."
Mixed metaphors aside, Ferguson’s ire stems from the way television in his view dictates the fixture schedule to the detriment of the players’ well-being. “It shows itself quite clearly because when you see the fixture lists come out now, they can pick and choose whenever they want the top teams on television.
"You get some ridiculous situations when you're playing on Wednesday night in Europe and then at lunchtime the following Saturday. You ask any manager if they would pick that themselves and there'd be no chance."
While few football fans would argue with Ferguson there might be more than the odd eyebrow raised in wry amusement at such concerns being voiced by the manager of the club who, arguably, have benefited more than any other from the money now awash in the Premier League.
Former Football Association chief executive Brian Barwick had no issue with Ferguson’s stance but told the BBC: "Sir Alex's comments always have to be taken seriously - he is a very wise and experienced football man. But on this one, I do think Manchester United have almost had a lion's share of TV revenue over a period of time and it has helped build a fantastic stadium in Old Trafford and helped build Sir Alex's teams with star players."
In the first five years of the Premier League’s existence, from 1992 to 1997, BSkyB paid £191m to screen 60 games per season. The last time the rights were agreed, in February 2009, Sky and Setanta (later replaced by ESPN) reportedly paid a total of around £1.78 billion to broadcast 138 games per season.
Under the deal, clubs earn on average £4.3m for each of their games shown live. So far this season all United’s six league games have been broadcast live with three more to come in the next five weeks. On the other hand United’s fixture against Norwich at the weekend will be their first 3pm start on a Saturday this season.
Ferguson appears to accept that there is no escaping the power of television but believes that with the Premier League rights being sold to 200 countries the clubs are being short-changed. "When you think of that I don't think we get enough money," complained the 69-year-old Scot.
With United having earned a reported £60m from television rights last season some might struggle to take his rant too seriously.
But at least Ferguson showed he does have a sense of humour. Asked about his notorious half-time team talks, where under-performing players are said to get the "hairdryer" treatment, Fergie responded: "It’s a myth. If I had thrown tea-cups as often as I am supposed to then we’d have been through a lot of crockery." ·
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