The internet may yet topple Man Utd

23rd June 2000

IT”S one of those statistics you read somewhere that is at first unbelievable and then sticks in your mind. Apparently 40% of people in England who support a football team, support Manchester United.

Imagine that.

There are 92 (I think) league clubs in the English league and one of them corners two out of every five supporters. If you add in the popularity of Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea, probably 80% of supporters follow just five clubs.

In other countries the situation is worse. In Italy and Spain, Inter Milan and Real Madrid have over 50% of supporters.

Aside from being amazing facts with which to dazzle your friends in the pub, they also tell us some things about our society over the past 30 years or so, and how things might pan out in the future.

Firstly, if you own shares in Man U, you’re going to be rich, rich, rich. Because, when the technology is in place, they are going to be charging audiences of 10 million, 20 million, 30 million (whatever million you’re having yourself) £5 a head to watch live matches.

Even if they only charge £1 a head the potential earnings are absolutely staggering.

The reason why Man U are so popular is because the broad mass of people have been consuming the same narrow range of media outlets for the past few decades, which have been focused on the same narrow range of topics.

In many ways people saw this media focus as unifying. People shared the experience of watching the first man on the moon. Television and radio provided conversation topics between strangers. Media stars like Gay Byrne and Terry Wogan were universally ‘known’.

In this way Man U have become a kind of soap opera. If you are weary of talking about the weather you can always talk about United. Everyone knows the characters and the plot – even those who aren’t interested in football.

But now all is changed utterly.

The big broadcasters are being replaced with a myriad of smaller broadcasters.

Where 25 years ago we had only one legal radio station in the South, the number is now approaching 40. So not only has Gaybo retired – no-one will ever have the opportunity of taking his place.

The notable thing about this development is that it took place with old technology. New technology, the Internet, has enormous potential for fragmenting audiences further.

But back to United.

At the outset, the new technology offers massive financial opportunities to the club. The audience that has been built up over the years of the old technology is now ripe for the picking. The club now has an individual route into their supporters’ living rooms where they can be charged, as I said, for watching games and selling merchandise.

First goal to United, then.

But the supporter sitting in front of the TV/computer now has a massive range of choices at their fingertips.

For example, let’s say Na Fianna are playing in the first round of the Leinster club championship.

It’s 3 O’Clock on a Sunday afternoon and you can watch United play Coventry, or Na Fianna play Skyrne. You’d like to watch United but you know a few of the lads on the Na Fianna side. You decide on the latter.

Ha, I hear you say, Na Fianna are not going to impoverish Manchester United. Ok, not on their own. But there are millions of small clubs in hundreds of sports.

The new technology means that live television pictures will be available from every event.

Let’s say the Wicklow hang-gliding championships are on. There’s a worldwide audience of 50 people. Each pays £2 for the pleasure. All the organisers need is a digital camera and a link to the Internet to broadcast the event. No problem.

What we are witnessing is the greatest tool against elitism and centralism since humans got together to hunt.

Perhaps this is the tool to stop people slobbering over their ‘betters’ and usher in the long hoped for ‘people’s democracy’.


As well as that…

We love you England…

I’m fed up with people going all pious about our tendency to support whoever England is playing.

What have the English done to earn our support? And if they actually won Euro 2000, wouldn’t their soccer pundits be absolutely obnoxious for the next four (40?) years?

So come on the Portuguese, Germans, Romanians, etc. The embarrassing bit is that the English insist on supporting us. I’ve sat in pubs in London during Irish games and the English have gone wild when we scored.

Bloody spoilsports.

More is less

Staying with soccer, I see that Shels are unhappy that the Eircom League (it’s a capital E and let’s have no more about it) won’t be reduced to 10 teams for another two years.

There are veiled threats to break away to form an elite 10 club league. Like, instead of a 12 club league. Radical, huh?

I’m not too sure that if people aren’t moved off their butts to watch Shels vs Rovers three times a season, they’ll relish the prospect of the fixture four times a year.

It’ll never be exciting until Linfield join. Soccer and sectarianism – it’s a sure winner!