Matt Maher: Pay-per-view is proving a turn off with the fans

Just a few months ago the idea of not watching a Wolves match would have been unthinkable to Peter Abbott.

A general view of Molineux home stadium of Wolverhampton Wanderers. (AMA)
A general view of Molineux home stadium of Wolverhampton Wanderers. (AMA)

Yet he will not be tuning in for tomorrow night’s clash with Crystal Palace and neither will it be the first game he has missed in recent weeks.

“I didn’t watch the Manchester City home match,” explains Abbott. “We had plans, the kind of thing where in the past had Wolves been playing and I’d been able to go we would have rearranged without a second thought.

“But I hate watching games on television. I find it so difficult and I don’t know how people who have always watched them that way do it.

“I’d say I get about 10 per cent of the enjoyment I would from the usual match-going experience.”

Abbott knows all about the latter. In 35 years he only failed to attend one Wolves match before the coronavirus pandemic forced them behind closed doors and left watching on a screen his only option.

But it is not the same and his decision to give the visit of Palace a miss has been made easier by the fixture being made pay-per-view, meaning he would have to pay an extra £14.95 for the privilege.

“There was no way I was ever going to do that,” he says. “At the minute I pay around £30-a-month to Sky but I get to watch everything. But £15 for just one match? That’s extortion.”

When Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo talks about the potential of a whole generation of match-going supporters being lost to the game, he is echoing the fears of clubs across the country.

Whether fans will return in the same numbers post-pandemic is the great unknown and a question which will only be answered when life returns to some semblance of normality.

Yet judging by the comments of a die-hard like Abbott, clubs are right to be concerned. Under such a light, the decision by those in the Premier League to antagonise their fanbases with pay-per-view matches appears ever more risky.

“Two fingers up to the fans,” is how Glenn Aston, Football Supporters Association representative for the Wolves Fans’ Parliament chooses to describe it.

In recent weeks the FSA has been urging a boycott against PPV and the campaign to continue, after Premier League clubs this week opted to delay making any alterations to the scheme until early next month.

At just under 40,000 subscribers per match, viewing figures for the first two rounds of PPV games were hardly spectacular.

They were sufficient enough, however, for clubs to believe the format may have a future, despite the PR backlash it has caused. Revenue from the first 10 PPV matches is thought to have been around £5.2million.

“From our point of view the figures were a little disappointing because the Premier League will no doubt see them as proof people are willing to pay,” says Aston.

“The most likely scenario now is they will drop the price down to £9.95 for matches after the international break, but for a lot of fans I think that will be too little, too late. It is not so much about the money as the principle of it now.”

A general view of and empty Molineux Stadium, home stadium of Wolverhampton Wanderers as both teams warm up. (AMA)

Some good has come from the controversy, with more than £300,000 and counting raised for charity by supporters who have chosen to boycott the scheme and instead donate the £14.95 charge to worthy causes.

The Wolves Fans’ Parliament is urging fans to back a scheme started by supporter Kim Smith and instead of paying for tomorrow night’s match give their money to the Well Foodbank, an organisation which delivers more than 9,500 food parcels a year to homes in the city.

In the meantime, fan groups will continue to lobby their clubs ahead of the next Premier League meeting.

Among the chief frustrations is the disparity in what supporters of each club will be expected to pay. Tomorrow’s match is the first pay-per-view fixture involving Wolves but fans of their West Midlands rivals have been less fortunate with the fixture list. Albion do not have a match chosen for live TV broadcast until at least the end of November, meaning the Baggies could have seven straight fixtures only available on PPV.

“How on earth is that fair?” asks Aston. “As Wolves fans we have been fortunate in some respects so far, but by the end of the season we know we will end up paying more than fans of Manchester United or Liverpool, who have the majority of their matches chosen for TV.

“There is a lot of tribalism in the game but on this issue as supporters we have to stand together.”

Clubs might argue they were left with no choice but to turn to PPV after the government decided to delay indefinitely the return of supporters to stadiums.

Yet that narrative poses some awkward questions. Even if fans had been allowed back, it would have only been in relatively small numbers. What was the plan for the tens of thousands of season ticket holders still shut out of the ground with no access to watching their team? The apparent haste with which PPV was introduced might suggest there never was one.

“This is why it needs addressing quickly,” says Aston. “Even when fans are allowed back it will be a phased return. We need something which is fair to everyone.”

For now, clubs concerned about the long-term outlook risk alienating supporters at a time when many are feeling a lack of connection.

“It’s tough at the moment,” says Abbott. “I genuinely think there will be fans who don’t go back. The habit has been broken.”

To donate to the Well Foodbank visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/boycottppv

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