Radio Silence

Maybe I shouldn’t care, but I do. After all, I never listen to the radio commentaries for home games, because I’m almost always there. The one time I wasn’t there last season, I was too ill to listen to anyone. I get to quite a fair number of away games too, although sometimes you wonder why you bothered. And, since I don’t even live within the area where the main radio commentaries can be heard, the only option I have is the internet, which will still be there. So why should I be bothered?

Well, two reasons. The first is a young friend of mine. He comes with his dad to as many home games as he can, but misses some because he’s at a residential school in Worcester. It’s a very special school for a very special group of youngsters. They’re all blind or partially sighted. My young friend has no sight at all and, sitting in the Midland Road, relies on the radio commentary to add to his other sensory perceptions. Without a commentary his enjoyment is lost and neither he nor his dad, who’s effectively his carer, will come to games.

So there you have my very personal reason for urging those who can address this issue to do so. I’m guessing City has more than one blind fan and the club tell me that they used to provide a commentary service using some ‘very expensive equipment’ which was lost, stolen or broken. On Saturday my young friend and his dad have been given the chance to sit behind whoever is doing the commentary for the internet. It may work; it may not. We shall see. But it took some organising and the original response from the club was not helpful. And therein lies my second reason for being bothered.

When my young friend and his mum went down to Valley Parade to hand in a letter and asked to speak to one or two people, they were told that they were busy, because there was a match on Saturday. A match on Saturday? Well, who would have expected that at a football club? Once mum had made a call to the press, the same people were not too busy to talk to the media about the issue and then to mum herself. Of course, this is an issue where the very subject matter reduces the extent to which the regular media can be involved, but it doesn’t prevent some of us from putting in our two pennyworth.

I gather that on Saturday, while I was finding a parking space in the vicinity of Meadow Lane, both of the local radio stations interviewed senior people at Bradford City. Both interviewees seem to have said that all this is about how much the radio people should pay for the privilege of live commentary. It seems the club thinks that £430 per game is the right figure, although I’m not sure if that means £430 each or shared between them. (I think it’s the former.) The Director of Operations says that the club will not ‘give away’ this right. They didn’t ‘give away’ the right last year or the year before or in the many years before then. What he means is that they think they’ve underpriced it. (I do not use the word ‘undervalued’ for reasons that will become clear in a moment.)

Well, if they have underpriced it, so have a lot of other clubs. I believe that the sum City want is about double the going rate in League Two, although the Director of Operations may well be able to prove otherwise. If he can, I shall agree with him that the price is now right. And our local stations seem to have negotiated a suitable price for live commentary at a club just to the west, who play in a league above us, and for live commentary at opponents’ grounds.

And when he was asked about those who, for reasons of infirmity, can’t get down to Valley Parade, the Director of Operations seemed to suggest that consideration would be given to the club’s paying for their subscriptions to the internet service that will be their only hope of receiving live commentary for home games. It would be best not to think about whether they already have the necessary computer equipment, expertise and financial means to have broadband access, just in case this awkward question might reveal how little thought had really been given to their difficulties.

But it’s that word ‘consideration’ that forms the second reason for my being bothered about all this. It seems the whole argument is about money; the difference between the £430 per game the club says is an offer still on the table and whatever the radio people paid last year. (It could be that £430 represents an increase of as much as 66% on previous years, if I remember accurately and believe a snippet of a conversation I overheard some months ago.) The possibility of bringing in a small amount of extra revenue, as against the risk of losing all the revenue the commentaries used to bring in, seems to have taken priority over the enjoyment of fans, young and old, who rely on radio commentaries. And at the moment the revenue from radio commentaries will be precisely how much? Good business deal there, then.

Professional football, at least from the date of the formation of the Premier League, is first and foremost a business. Like any other business, it relies on its customers for its income. Unlike most other businesses, its main customers are called ‘fans’, at least in the lower leagues, where the ticket income is a significantly higher proportion of the club’s revenue than it is in the TV sponsored world of the Premier League. That sounds a little like a captive audience, like a group that can often be taken for granted. I should know. I’m one of those who can be taken for granted by Bradford City. But those currently responsible for running the club should know that it is not they who can take me for granted, but the team. And there are thousands of others they take for granted only at their peril. Radio commentary is not something to be bought and sold like a second hand car. It serves more purposes than some might have perceived and it produces more, intangible and unquantifiable benefits than might be immediately obvious to the bean counters.

In his play ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’ (a very different type of ‘fan’), Oscar Wilde gave one of his characters the chance to say that a cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Cynicism is no way to run a business. Still less is it a way to run a business that relies on fans. A rethink is not too late. It might yet bring in some income and at the same time show a willingness to think about the fans.

Wouldn’t that be quite an achievement?