The Digital Olympics – A Game Changer

The Olympics have been finished less than a week and already we’ve had a multitude of blogs, tweets and comments about how the big bad world of football can learn from it.

We’ve had it from journalists and we’ve had it from footballers currently serving massive bans for punching other players.

I’m not going to add to that debate. Other than to say this – maybe, just maybe, you can’t compare the two things. And maybe, just maybe, some of the more unsavoury aspects of football are what make it so compelling week after week. And maybe, just maybe, that if some of our Olympics heroes were given an agent at age 13 and were earning £40k per week at age 16 and had everybody out for a piece of them every single day they would turn out to be just as big arseholes as a lot of the footballers.

But, enough of that.

I do think football can learn from the Olympics, however. But I’m not talking about off the pitch. I think the real lasting legacy that will impact on the Premier League and beyond has come from the off-pitch stuff. I’m talking about the coverage.

In short, LOCOGs digital team and the BBC have done such a good job that I think they moved the goalposts. I think they may have opened the eyes of a lot of the general viewing public.

They have changed “what is possible” into “what is expected”. And I think this could be a difficult thing for top flight football to swallow. During the Olympics I would seamlessly move from big screen to small screen, through all sizes of screen inbetween. There would be no change in the quality of programming that I was watching.

I could choose exactly what I wanted to watch, and when. I was completely in charge. And there was no arbitrary distinction between broadcast platforms. Online was TV and TV was online. All the time, across all of the different sports.

It was a masterclass in how to put the viewer in charge of their own event. The BBC delivered superbly on all counts, and the size of that undertaking should not be underestimated. Every session of every event, in HD, in whatever format you choose to view it, supported by radio and online text commentaries. Really, truly superb.

So the jarring thing for me this weekend was not seeing Chelsea and Man City players kicking lumps out of each other. I quite liked that. And it wasn’t hearing the crowd shouting “wanker, wanker, wanker” at the referee. I kind of agreed with them. And I’m a grown up, so that doesn’t bother me.

What jarred for me was seeing the new season ad for Sky Sports advertising Wigan v Chelsea.

Here you go, take it or leave it.

But I don’t want to be told which game to watch. I want to pick and choose. And I don’t want highlights available at this time, on this platform, through this provider. I want it the way I want it. I’m prepared to pay. In fact, I already do, so give me what I want.

Now there are very good reasons why it is like it is. The Premier League makes a whole heap of cash by carving out the rights across platforms and by dividing up match packs. A free-for-all wouldn’t make a whole lot of commercial sense.

So it is what it is. And Sky’s coverage is uniformly excellent (and with Sky Go they at least let me take my coverage with me on different devices).

But I do wonder how long “consumer expectations” and “making commercial sense” can be at odds with each other. A tech savvy and passionate audience has a way of moulding these things to their own preference.

It happened in music, it happened in TV and now, as we have seen over the last couple of weeks, it can happen in sport.

However long it takes for the impact to be felt, I think the Olympics has been a game changer for football. Just not on the pitch.


3 thoughts on “The Digital Olympics – A Game Changer

  1. There was a challenge to this monopoly a few years ago which Sky and the Premier League won. I can’t remember the finer details but it was over the fact that there were dozens of matches not available so why not let other companies show them? The upshot of the case was that it would dilute the “exclusivity” of Sky’s (or whoever’s) programming. Like most people, I do not want to watch Wigan v Bolton (and equally I have no interest in Man U v Chelsea but realise many others do) but I’d like the option to watch it. Although I wouldn’t bother.

    All leagues, all in HD, all available on my laptop or the red button? I’d even pay for for that rather than stream off a feed from the internet! At least I’d get to see Leeds more often…

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