There Is A Crucial Difference Between Letting Fans Into Stadiums And The Hospitality Trade, Despite What Sportsound Would Have You Believe; Season Ticket Holders Have Already Paid
Sportsound hit the airwaves at 2PM Saturday as usual, despite the lack of competitive games to cover after a truncated Premiership fixture list that was split between Friday night and Sunday afternoon.
A lack of action didn't stop Sportsound right through the lockdown, so it's no surprise the Scottish Football magazine show took the opportunity to cover the football news, reflect on the Friday games and look ahead to the Sunday fixtures. They'd also secured something of a coup; Mike Mulraney, the Alloa Chairman, appeared in his guise as SFA President, alongside Neil Doncaster, Chief Executive of the SPFL.
Suffice to say, these two showing up on the same show at the same time could only be part of a cravenly obvious, painfully transparent and well rehearsed publicity move. This staging of a political attack on the Scottish Government was orchestrated with the wholeheartedly willing BBC Radio Scotland team, who were only too happy to aid and abet the Football Administrators as they sought to exert pressure on the First Minister and her Sports Minister, Joe Fitzpatrick.
This took place two days before a meeting with Mr Fitzpatrick, and served as an attempt to strong-arm the Government ahead of the conference call with the Joint Response Group.
It would have been funny, if it wasn't so pathetic.
Their 'grenade', such as it was, did have one advantage; it was undeniably true. Their headline grabber was the revelatory insight that the decision not to allow spectators to return to sports stadia yet was a political one.
Yes, their secret weapon, that got the Sportsound team so thoroughly wet at the knickers, was pointing out that a democratically elected Government, voted in as a victorious political party, managing a public health crisis, was making political considerations regards what was and what was not permitted.
Presumably, the chaps can point to decisions taken by Governments that are not political in nature? Answers on a postcard. Deciding to lockdown the citizenry is a political decision. Deciding to institute a curfew on hospitality is a political decision. So, too, is deciding to run a furlough scheme, not to mention bring it to an end.
Outwith Covid 19, decisions are political. Free tuition? Political. Free prescriptions? Political. Taxes, military spending, pensions, minimum wages... you get the picture.
So, what was the point of there, ahem, point? Messers Mulraney and Doncaster were pointing out that the continuing absence of fans from Football grounds (and other sports stadia) was political rather than clinical. By this, they meant that they weren't doing this out of any high falutin' science reasons. It wasn't about public health. You know, things right minded people either like or, at least, respect. No, it was all about that bloomin' horrible politics stuff, what everyone hates 'n that.
See, here's the thing. Again, they are kind right. The comparison they drew, and which the Sportsound team spent what felt like another ten years repeating ad nauseam, was with the Hospitality industry; pubs and restaurants and coffee shops.
The argument goes that you are allowed to go to a pub/restaurant/Cafe/shopping centre and sit/stand/walk around indoors, so why can't you sit in an open air stadium and watch sport? 'Bloody politics!' they cried.
Well, in a way. It might be better to say 'economics'.
'Our clubs are crying out for income! 47% of the income is from supporters in Scottish Football! We need the fans in to get revenue!' 'Football contributes so much to the economy!' This is the basis of their argument; clubs need money, and the best and most reliable way to get them money is to let them open their doors to their paying customers.
And don't worry, we'll do it socially distanced, reduced capacity, without concession stands or match programmes. We'll make it so that we have the name and contact details of everyone who comes to the game. Home fans only, to reduce travel and therefore avoid spikes in public transport use.
Alas, that's where their argument runs into a brick wall covered in spikes and engulfed in fire.
You see, the only people that would be allowed inside stadiums right now would be season ticket holders; people like me, who have signed up in advanced for priority treatment, for first dibs, for a guaranteed entry to games as soon as it is permissible. Put to one side the fact that I and every other season ticket holder knew going in that we might not see every game from inside the stadium. Ignore the fact that we signed up out of a sense of loyalty to the club we support, out of a desire to help them in these trying financial times.
Focus instead on the quite obvious fact that, from Elgin to Annan, from Stranraer to Peterhead, Premiership to League 2, season ticket holders have... already paid their money.
A determination was made. To avoid the continual shut down of the economy and decimation of sectors that need customers through the door, certain industries were allowed to operate under new restrictions in spite of that fact that any and all human interaction during this Covid Pandemic comes with relative risks.
People can go to pubs and restaurants because they spend money there. This allows those businesses to continue whilst government subsidy winds down and the safety net underneath them since March is whisked away. Letting season ticket holders into stadiums, people who have pre-paid for their access, does not give clubs extra income and so adds zero revenue to the clubs. It might actually cost the clubs, if they need to provide increased stewarding and meet new safety regulations in and around their stadium. That's a glaringly obvious reason that pubs and the pictures, restaurants and the retail parks, are taking punters in whilst the football grounds remain shut. You have to pay each time you go to hospitality and that money covers the wages of workers, the costs of the business, the operational overheads. Likely it doesn't cover them, for now, but it goes some way towards it, at least.
My season ticket has been paid for. The club won't get an extra penny out of me if i'm allowed in, unless the pie stand is open, which it obviously won't be. The Diamonds Lotto is already online and I've already entered it for the next 16 weeks. Unless pay at the gate is allowed, fans will not be putting extra money into their clubs by going to matches, the way punters are putting extra pounds into tills at the pub, the restaurant, the multiplex or the shops.
Sportsound has been banging this drum for a while now, even more so since their Big Juicey Exclusive on Saturday. They forget to mention, however, this truth. Maybe it's just too inconvenient for them. I get it; they are a football programme, populated by football people, who want fans back in. I want back in. I'm dying to get back in, but I don't want anyone to die to make it happen. I don't want anyone to get ill because we take an unnecessary risk, as risk there assuredly is. Relatively small risk? Sure. Could it be done safely? Relatively safely, yeah. That's the important word, though; Relatively. Letting Season ticket holders in offers no financial benefit to clubs, so it's zero financial gain for a relatively low risk.
That might still be a risk worth taking due to the feel good factor, the mental health benefits and the boost in mood for those like me who long to return to live football. That's a valid argument. It is not valid, though, to draw this fatuous comparison with the hospitality and retail industries, where the financial gain is most assuredly NOT zero.
It's also worth bearing in mind that the Scottish Government mood music seems to be that they'd have shut pubs and restaurants as well, if they had the financial powers to offer a furlough scheme of their own to avoid the economic impact of redundancies, bankruptcies and empty premises, all of which would have consequences that are, you guessed it, political in nature. We might find they do enforce further restrictions this week, as it happens.
Sportsound really should be fair and point out this quite obvious and significant difference, given they are drawing the comparison multiple times per broadcast. It's really starting to stick in the craw of this season ticket holder, but I suppose that might get in the way of a ramble, rant or reminiscence from the usual suspects.