I don’t think any of us football lovers knew how good we had it last year over in the United States. I could watch a hearty chunk of Premier League games on my TV. If the game wasn’t televised, or (more likely) my kids were rising up in a Saturday morning revolution and demanding Peppa Pig, I could watch the game on my iPad. If my son’s football games clashed with Everton games, or if I was at work – I could watch the games on my phone. It was brilliant. I didn’t know how good I had it…
Perhaps I pushed things too far. When Ross Barkley (remember him?) rounded the keeper and lifted his arms in celebration *before* he scored against Bournemouth- I grabbed a screenshot from my iPhone – threw it into a cheap and cheerful photo editing app – and voila! I had a nice nugget of shareable social media content. So shareable in fact, that soon everyone was using my screenshot. From journos’ match reports to Ronald Koeman himself. (NB: Not Koeman himself – clearly some poor social media sap) Next match, I tried the same trick, and NBC Sports blocked it. Now when you try and get a screenshot of a game on your iPhone the screen is black… You can thank me for that.
Not a bad start 2017. Keepthemomentum🔵⚪👍 pic.twitter.com/S3028sL1Gc
— Ronald Koeman (@RonaldKoeman) February 12, 2017
This summer though, NBC Sports decided to end this orgy of wanton Premier League viewing by bringing in NBC Sports “Gold”… Gone were the days of being able to watch all games, now we were forced to cough up an extra $50 to get to see the 35%ish of games that were now fenced off behind a paywall. There were grumbles aplenty about this new model, but most of us eventually came round to buying the “Gold” package.
When you take something away, make customers pay *more* to access it, and name it “Gold,” you expect it to work. While last year’s viewing was pretty much glitch free for me whether I was on my phone, laptop, ipad or TV this year has been a mess. From week one I’ve been unable to access the games in some form. Luckily – and probably because of Everton’s ridiculous run of matches with “big” teams – I didn’t have to rely on “Gold” for my Toffee viewing until this weekend. And what a bloody sham it was. For the entire first half I was treated to a white screen. Frantic emails to NBC Sports Gold’s support teams were met with such white-noise witterings as “we are aware of this issue” and “we are working to resolve this as soon as possible.” As NBC Sports Gold melted down, so did Twitter – with an avalanche of mouth-frothingly angry subscribers used to their Saturday morning football going postal.
My Everton stream started working just as I didn’t want to, springing into life in time to see Joshua King open the scoring for Bournemouth. Others weren’t so lucky, with the audio of United-Southampton not working until the last ten minutes. NBC Sports were quick to issue an apology, offering us the chance to either cancel our subscription with a full refund (not going to help me watch Everton) or to continue with NBC Sports Gold and get ten glorious dollars back as an apology (yes please.)
All this havoc brought out an unexpected reaction. I was left pining for Fox Sports and wishing they had rights to the Premier League. Yes – Warren Barton, and his cockney belchings. Yes – Mario Melchiot and his constant name dropping. Yes – Stuart Holden and his ridiculous Scottish “impersonations”. All those negative things are worth it to see football that I have paid for. Fox Sports have even piloted Champions League games on Facebook Live – and crucially delivered a slick product. I can forgive moronic commentators as long as I can see football.
With Twitter “shows” like Buzzfeed’s AM to DM and the Ringer’s Talk The Thrones alongside NFL’s American Football games on Twitter the “second screen” phenomenon – where people are encouraged to watch TV and interact on social simultaneously – is starting to disappear. Now we can watch AND comment on social, with Fox Sports’ Facebook Live-ing of the Champions League being the perfect example. This could be the future for some forms of broadcast… But it comes at a price. Social Media is many things to many people, but it is certainly a hive of complaints… If a product isn’t to your liking, social media is often the place people choose to vent. Fox Sports’ live stream on Facebook was met with a snowstorm of abuse in the comments section. Not about the game, but about Holden and Melchiot’s mephitic commentary. Gone are the days of tolerating David Pleat’s bleating while watching the game. Now you can watch the game on social, and the commentator can see the abuse rolling in… Who knows, it might even make Fox, NBC and others upgrade their “announcers”…
Despite NBC Sports Gold’s faceless apologies, and despite the partial refund, I have no faith that this issue will be fixed by the weekend. There’ll be hearing from me, and many others, on social media for a long time to come. It’s the future.