Avid fans of The Times’ Monday football supplement The Game will have noticed something subtly but crucially different about the publication this week. All the usual match reports, analysis and viewpoints from the weekend’s fixtures were present and correct, as always. So were the star columnists. There too were all the league tables and statistics so beloved of fans of the beautiful game.
So what was missing from this seemingly normal edition of the pullout? Logos. There was barely one in sight. Pictures had been cleverly cropped to exclude team sponsors’ branding. The league tables, right through from the Premiership down to the non-league regional divisions, carried no mention of the corporations that pay handsomely to be associated with them.
The Times was not alone. In many other national newspapers the pattern was repeated.
The reason? In a word, greed. The football authorities believe they should be able to control everything about the game. Including the way the media reports on matches and the way it uses the data associated with them-from the names of the goal scorers to the time they scored.
That’s because they see this data as commercially valuable, and can’t bear the thought of someone other than themselves benefiting from it.
Now, after months of painstaking negotiation, the Newspaper Publishers Association has walked away from the table because of the leagues’ intransigence.
And that’s why its members have put in a crunching tackle of their own. It won’t be long before sponsors start wondering why the logos they are paying good money for are failing to appear in The Game and all the others. And perhaps then the football leagues will wake up to the crucial role newspapers play in keeping the game popular.