TV Times - A justifiable decision

LAST week, the European Union’s General Court backed the UK’s Government’s ruling that World Cups and European Championships should only be shown on terrestrial television in this country.

FIFA had made a challenge to this ruling, suggesting that while games such as finals or those involving home nations should remain exceptions, a tournament as a whole is not of enough importance to be covered by such a restriction.

Clearly, football’s global governing body wants to squeeze out every last penny they can – and pay-TV firms such as Sky can afford to shell out more than the likes of the BBC and ITV.

This is a further example to back the accusation FIFA are more interested in revenue than the welfare of the game and those interested in it.

But thankfully the interests of the viewers and supporters have been given priority over those of the corporate bodies.

There is an argument that free to air channels should have first refusal over rights to international sport and in football’s case it’s fully justified.

Over the last 20 years, there has been more than enough evidence there is an appetite for England matches among the public.

Even those who will never sit down and watch big games, such as Manchester United v Chelsea, will become the most die-hard supporter when England play.

International tournaments bring the English public together like nothing else, in the modern day.

It will be very interesting to see the audience figures for the upcoming Royal Wedding in relation to some of England’s biggest matches over the past decade or so.

And the interest in England has a knock-on effect for the rest of the tournament they are playing in.

The festival of football atmosphere takes over, leaving casual fans with a sudden interest in the fortunes of North Korea.

Allowing subscription-based television companies to take control of such tournaments would instantly bring an end to this interest.

While many of Sky’s eight million-plus subscribers pay out mainly for Premier League football, these people wouldn’t be classed as casual fans.

Taking tournaments off terrestrial television would force people to either shell out or go out of their way to watch them, instantly cutting off the casual, occasional fan.

Cricket’s Ashes is a prime example of this.

The thrilling 2005 series, when England destroyed Australia, was watched at its peak by more than eight million people.

Sky snapped up the rights to broadcast live international cricket in 2009 and the brilliant Ashes series from that year was watched by just 1.5 million people.

The interest has died an awful lot now the majority of people can’t see it.

Those with Sky will suggest their team make a much better job of covering sport than the terrestrial channels could in their wildest dreams.

And the coverage of the Ashes is a major piece of evidence to support this.

But it would be a massive shame if international football saw such audience figure decline as cricket.

The EU General Court should be applauded for helping to ensure this does not happen.