Nicolás Miremont –
As part of the slow yet foreseeable progress of the stabilisation of the Argentine Football Association (AFA), a normalizing commission has been chosen by FIFA. This basically means that things are starting to function again, although only at a politically ordered level, since the association is still bankrupt.
This week meant a pronounced turn for all the fans, since the government announced that an agreement has been reached between their entity and approximately 95% of the top tier clubs, including some clubs from the lower divisions, to rescind the contract that binds the State to the broadcasting of football.
Tax-Financed Football’s Days are Numbered
With President Mauricio Macri providing a message of hope and promising to fight corruption, the new politics applied are starting to promote a radical change in the way things are done in every aspect of the administration of organizations in the country.
The President himself also expressed his opinion about the situation regarding football in his country: “When you have to deal with so much poverty and crisis, every penny matters”. He also spoke about the Super League, which he thinks “has to remain inside the AFA, although it will operate as it does in Spain, using marketing tools to provide funds to the clubs”.
“Football For Everyone must be discontinued. Those funds have to be reinvested wisely in infrastructure and development. We are cooperating, I think. But the Normalizing organization ought to provide some light as well. Only then we will get to have respectable football, where no crafty individuals get to steal the money that a lot of people have worked so hard to produce”, stated Macri.
What Will Happen to Football?
It is more than obvious what the Government’s intentions are, in regards to free football. The system is not advantageous anymore and Macri let the AFA’s hand slip a long time ago.
He can’t just start charging for football, though. This is because of a promise he made during his campaign: he assured that football broadcasting would remain free at least until 2019 when the contract will expire. So, how can the government get rid of that commitment without making the population, who are not on their side for the most part, go mad? Well, they have found an unsuspected ally within an organisation which once hailed Julio Grondona as their lord and saviour: the clubs, which are in serious debt and are now willing to do anything in order to turn the page.
Using this tactic, both sides are said to have reached an agreement. The State would be able to invest money into projects that are a little bit more dignified—like schools, hospitals, a decent army, trains, everything we have lost; and no one would dare blame them for taking free football away, since, technically, it is not they, but the clubs who are asking for this nightmare to end, because those 2.5 billion Pesos, they agreed last week, are not enough.
Although the date is still a mystery, the exact end of free football will be determined by how much money the State is willing to provide to the AFA. Armando Pérez, Belgrano de Córdoba President and now leader of the recently emerged Normalizing Commission declared that they want 3 billion pesos, and with this amount of money they would present no opposition to the resignation of the Football For Everyone contract by the end of 2016.
The Sad Truth About the Football For Everyone Platform
Football For Everyone meant a victory for those people who just couldn’t afford a pay television deal, and we were all delighted when it was first announced. That time was a different period in history, however: our country was wealthy and was able to sustain such a milestone.
One of its prioritised goals was the federalisation of the sport. This meant putting an end to every possible monopoly surrounding the world of football. TyC Sports plus the almighty Clarín Group owned the entire business, and it was exclusive and expensive. Their slogan was, “We are the owners of the ball”. All the matches were broadcast only via their platform, and the highlights were not available until Sunday at 22:00, when their exclusive show “Fútbol de Primera” went live.
After that, it only got worse, some channels even got to the point where they simulated the goals scored using virtual software or even real people in a rented pitch so that the viewers could more or less manage to recreate the scene in their minds! It was simply pathetic. Yes, football was that unaffordable. Other channels just showed the fans in the stadium rather than the pitch.
From Friday to Sunday, every single bar in the country that could afford the full set of matches of the weekend would be crowded (and overpriced). As we said above, those days seemed to be finally gone for good when Football For Everyone arrived.
When it first came out, the transmission was basically awful, rookie mistakes were made during broadcasting, and the service only impressed those who had never before experienced live football on television.
Since then, Football For Everyone’s transmission changed and took a major step from its initial form. The platform added new features, incorporated more important personalities to their staff, and even adopted some interface technologies from abroad.
The improvements however, were not enough; in the close visible affiliation with the previous government, the AFA clearly forgot some important issues like security and the provision of a good, reliable service for football transmissions.
The service got worse, pro-government propaganda became standard in the form of skirting boards or at the half-time break. It got to the point where the experience was not enjoyable anymore; the commentators were unbearable and unprofessional. It looked like the monopoly was not over but, in fact, it had merely switched owners.
AFA TV – The Future of Argentine Football Broadcasting?
There is no definitive date for the ending of the service, as we mentioned before. Yet, the AFA has already done its own research on the possible new associate which, in a best-case scenario, would play a major part in the revitalisation of football.
Many names have come up, including Fox Sports, DirecTv, and even Al-Jazeera. The company which as of today, however, stands the greatest chance of becoming the official partner of the new broadcasting project is the United States based company Turner.
How will this new platform run? Well, it will be a cable platform where the idea is to feature each and every single football category, and to sell them as bundles— from the mighty Super League to the non-affiliated division, even Futsal.
The platform has already been assigned a director; Horacio Gennari, one of the most influential intermediaries between the AFA and Football For Everyone. He has already revealed some details about what this new media portal would involve.
There would be a brand new HD signal where all the categories would coexist, such as the system that has already been tested in Chile. Gennari stated, “It would function like some sort of Netflix for football content. The Super League in HD and Yupanqui (fourth-tier team) shall share the same screen. We don’t want a gap between the rich and the poor.”
This is a key point of his announcement, for it is great news for the people who live in the Interior (the inner parts of the country). AFA TV would have a space in the TDA (Open Digital Television), a network established by the previous government in order to provide a free basic television bundle that would symbolically unite the whole country. Every person who owned this free service would have the option of watching his or her team, no matter what division they compete in.
Amongst many others, the possibility of David and Goliath sharing a screen gave rise to denigrating jokes. Gennari mentioned the AFA’s desperation to gather a considerable number of quality partners. “Every bit of collaboration will be welcome; we must defend our people and our football. The AFA needs great associates.”
There will be a charge for the channel from the start, although that would include a wide range of choice. An extra fee would be required should the client wish to watch the matches in High Definition quality. This, however, is subject to change, since we don’t know for sure the exact date of the end of free broadcasting. Lots of informal calculations have been made, and rumours have spread already. The estimated price will be no more than 100 Pesos (7 US$), although we don’t know for sure if that number corresponds to a month or only to a single match.
Finally, he spoke about the money invested. 70% of the shares would belong to the AFA, whilst the rest is to be owned by Turner. The AFA TV channel already has its own website which contains all the information and a short TV ad, which you can see here.
Will the Future be Any Better for us Fans?
Surely this is some improvement. Not from the short term point of view of the fan, because football will not be free anymore, but from the perspective of a brighter future which might be waiting just around the corner. It is difficult for all of us—the old propaganda slogan against private media companies like Clarín and TyC have emerged again after seven years. “Fútbol Para Pocos” they write and shout, which basically means Football For Few, for those who own it all.
Although I may not agree with many of the decisions made by the previous government, I am sad as well. But we must not be selfish. Sadly, we got used to an impossible, unsustainable reality. We all knew that football would not be free forever, and many are complaining while some people are starving and suffering through the winter. Football will never be one of the most important human priorities.
Football For Everyone was good; it was almost a dream come true for most of us. But the truth is that it was used as a political tool, and many people were encouraged to believe that the sport was the most important thing in their lives.
Argentina is a unique place on the planet. In this country, nothing is for free. No one wants us to enjoy football, they just want to earn more money. Cristina Kirchner, Mauricio Macri, the AFA, FIFA—all of them—their main priority is to retain their power. This is why I strongly believe that these new projects are the key to achieving fairness and equality. Regardless of our beliefs or our political parties, we should stop defending politicians and start making decisions as a community.
Football is a sport, an entertainment, and it is also many people’s source of income. From Lionel Messi to a striker playing in a lower league, both are, after all, working for their teammates and even for their families. Each deserves a transparent Association, a safe stadium and the possibility of being televised for his own people and for the rest of the country as well.
Provided that the new league and AFA TV stay honest and avoid monopolisation, this might have been the best decision the football industry could have made, at least for this time in history.
Nicolás Miremont is a born and raised Boca Juniors fan, but his heart has a special place for Manchester United, Zenit Saint Petersburg and Dynamo Kiev. Miremont loves to support the underdogs. Miremont enjoys watching smaller competitions especially those from Eastern Europe, but also his native Argentina. Follow him on Twitter @Miremont_Nico