Source: The Guardian
Disillusioned supporters who threaten the business model of the Premier League receive short shrift from Richard Scudamore
By Marina Hyde
At the tabloid newspaper in Martin Amis's novel Yellow Dog, readers are referred to at all times as "wankers". "At the Morning Lark," staff are reminded, "our target wanker's the unemployed." Features include "Wankers' Wives" and "Our Wankers Ask the Questions". A circulation fall indicates the paper has "lost wankers".
It's this sort of respect for one's clientele that always comes to mind when considering the Premier League's Richard Scudamore. Last week, his august body cut its entire funding of the fan-ownership organisation Supporters Direct, in response to some swearily abusive tweets posted by SD's chief executive. No matter that Dave Boyle has withdrawn them, apologised, and resigned. The judgment stands – a reprisal so disproportionately brutal that it seems to be from the playbook of a petulant dictator, as opposed to football's self-styled stewards of "the customer experience".
That Supporters Direct should be dependent on Premier League funding is one of those disingenuous quirks of modern life – the same type of corporate fig leaf that sees McDonald's bound over to use an infinitesimal fraction of its wealth to fund the odd public health initiative, or include a half-arsed, virtually unpromoted salad on its menu. We'd do better to consider the wider context. And parsing Scudamore's utterances, it is remarkable how often he appears to be looking askance at the supporter, most particularly those who have had the temerity to organise themselves in ways that buck his organisation's preferred business model.
Pressed on runaway Premier League ticket prices a couple of years ago, he claimed "[Bolton] are charging for adults and children for matches less than it is costing to go to FC United in the non-league". Intriguing, isn't it, that of all the examples of non-league teams Scudamore could pick, he went for FC United? And without getting into the nitty gritty of one or two promotions the Reebok Stadium had offered, his claim tended toward arrant cobblers. As a Supporters Direct spokesman put it at the time, it was the equivalent of "saying that because England in summer can be warmer than parts of Spain in winter, England has a hotter climate".
By striking coincidence, though, Scudamore's little dig was delivered about 10 minutes after FC United had announced the trial of a radical scheme allowing fans to set their own price for season tickets. "The Premier League clubs have put up prices regardless of the ability of people to pay," the club explained. "Those that can afford to pay continue to pay and those that can't fall off the end. Ultimately that will undermine the game of football, which has always been about inclusivity, not exclusivity." The scheme has been judged a success, and FC members have voted to implement it for a second season running. Doubtless the Premier League has sent a congratulatory basket of muffins.
Or perhaps you prefer the manner in which Scudamore chose to denounce Michel Platini's complaints about the "rampant commercialism" in the Premier League as "not much above the view of people in the corner of the pub". You don't have to be any fan of Platini to regard the choice of insult as telling. Who does Scudamore imagine consumes his precious "product", if not people in the pub?
Time and again it is the open contempt for the consumer that shines through, with the call for the smelling salts after Boyle's tweets preposterous in the extreme. When Wayne Rooney bellows "fuck" down the lens of a camera beaming the Premier League round the globe, the cynic in me suggests Scudamore is more than relaxed, most likely judging the incident burnishes the League's fabled rough-and-tumble image – one of its most heavily-promoted USPs.
So radical commercial ideas like Game 39 are encouraged, while radical ideas for governance are not. Have we really never had it so good? Yet again it feels relevant to observe that more football, in the manner in which the Premier League delivers it, has not made people more passionate supporters of the game. People talk in more bitter and disillusioned ways about football than they did before, and are profoundly aware of their meaninglessness to the vast corporate entities using their football fans' financial support for often wholly unrelated purposes.
Placed in context, then, the kneecapping of Supporters Direct feels like another way to shut down any alternative voices in the discourse. So next time Scudamore delivers some impenetrable management-speak homily on his "customers", you are cordially invited to substitute the word with "wankers". It should save an awful lot of time.