Football. It’s the beautiful game.
It’s shots curled into the top corner in the dying seconds. It’s jumpers for goalposts in the local park. It’s Ronaldinho at the Bernabeu in 2005. It’s a soggy Tuesday evening in a windy town, far from home, desperately warming your hands holding hot, flavourless coffee as your team loses again. It’s the glories that are multiplied and the tragedies that are shared by being part of a scarved, polyester-clad tribe of like-minded fans.
And now a $370m deal hatched in the northeast of England, to sell the historic – if currently less than stellar – Newcastle United Football Club might be scuppered due to a Middle Eastern pirate TV station.
Let’s start at the beginning. Football offers a tiny number of talented youngsters a route from favelas to Ferraris. The sport’s top stars earn eye-watering amounts. If Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, the world’s highest-paid footballer, grossing a reported 8.3 million euros ($9.2m) a month, were to drop a euro coin out of his pocket, he would earn it back, plus 50 percent, by the time it hit the ground.
But then you get to broadcasting rights, and you start talking serious money. The English Premier League raked in $11.33bn in sales of TV and radio rights for the 2019-2022 period. Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga have also generated multi-billion-dollar income streams from TV companies.
Broadcasting rights are the golden steroids that force the sport’s elite to grow into an ever-more gargantuan global industry.
And so a serious threat to TV revenues jeopardises the whole shebang, say sports analysts.
While internet service providers try their best to crack down on illicit low-resolution video feeds of matches streamed through malware-heavy websites of dubious origin, a bigger threat has arisen in previous years.
A pirate satellite TV station was once thought impossible. For one thing, the pirates would need an actual satellite. In space. That’s a level of investment beyond most.
But that is exactly what has happened, according to a lawsuit filed at the World Trade Organization (WTO).