I would love to tell you who we’re playing tomorrow, but I daren’t for fear of legal reprisals. It seems that Football League fixtures are copyrighted materials. No shock there, perhaps, but what is perhaps particularly surprising is that the Football League actively exercise their right to threaten unsuspecting and well intended websites.
Last week august Oxford United website Mincheryfarmweb tweeted that he had been forced to remove the fixtures for 2010/11 from his website. In response fellow Twellow @mlambourne said he’d come under similar pressure as a fanzine editor. I’d heard about the practice via When Saturday Comes, some years ago. The pedantry doesn’t really hit home until you actual see it in action.
It seems somewhat obvious to say that this is short-sighted. I’m no retrograde luddite who views football as some kind of working class right but this makes no commercial sense to the Football League, or in fact, their sponsors.
One reason behind this move is to try and drive web traffic to official sources. But the web isn’t like print media. It’s not a zero-based game, if you read Oxblogger, then you probably also read the official site, Rage Online and MincheryFarmWeb. You may also read 4th Stand Saga, Oxford United Fans, Fantastic Mr Ox’s Oxford Blog and gaze in bewilderment at We Are Oxford United. If you found a couple more sites, you’d probably read those too. In short, reading the fixtures on MincheryFarmWeb will not prevent you from looking at ‘official sources’ for additional content.
What’s more, this isn’t premium content. I can find out who we’re playing without ever going near an official source. The Football League own masses of premium content – goals, exclusive interviews, match statistics that will drive traffic to their official sources. I don’t think RageOnline is currently in a position to bid for TV rights to the Football League just to feature Matt Green spooning one over the bar from 8 yards.
There might be a question over accuracy. Unofficial sources are known for their inakkurasees. But its not beyond the wit of man to give free licence to feature fixtures on fan sites that meet certain criteria, for example, sites which carry no advertising (and therefore income). They could be issued with a logo that explains that this content has been allowed by the Football League, but may be inaccurate. Hell, it wouldn’t take Steven Hawking to create a widget that allows fans to feature fixture lists direct from the official sites. Then they will get the accuracy and the brand awareness.
Above all, this is damaging to the one organisation they don’t want to piss off – nPower. They have ploughed millions into the Football League to convince the common-man consumer that their brand of electricity is more aligned to the grass roots values that the football league represents.
The corporatisation of this content pushes them further away. There is an argument that says nPower and the football league should be actively trying to keen fans away from official sources and towards fan sites, because they’re more trusted and reflective of the culture of their targeted consumer.
Instead, we can now see that the Football League are paranoid wankers and their sponsors as distant corporate morons. Their sponsorship will have an impact on their brand value, although I suspect not in the way they want.
But, it's the weekend and I'm done with being threatened by big corporations for the week, so on Saturday, I am guessing that a professional football team from Herefordshire, will play a professional football team from Oxford. I’ll leave you to work out the rest.