I was chatting to someone from a Greater London-based Celtic supporters club at the weekend while in the pub watching the All-Ireland hurling final. He was telling me that the previous Saturday he had gone, as usual, to the pub at 3pm to watch Celtic play Dundee. Yes, a Celtic game, at 3pm, on a Saturday.
The means of doing so was, of course, via an internet stream on a laptop, hooked up to a big screen. Unfortunately, every stream they tried had either been shut down or was blocked while they were watching. In the end, a room full of fans sat around listening to the game on BBC Radio Scotland.
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The blocking of internet streams is becoming an increasingly common occurrence. Clubs no doubt fear a threat to their attendances, or being held accountable for breaching their TV contracts if they are not seen to act on illegal streaming. The TV companies meanwhile see the streams as a threat to their (frankly ridiculously priced) sports subscriptions.
However the game the Celtic fans were trying to watch was not being screened anywhere in Britain. The venue, like many other pubs around the country that show games via internet streams, also has a fully paid up legitimate sports package. Therefore they are already paying Sky and ESPN the maximum they possibly can for all televised sports in Britain, and were merely utilising another means of showing a game not being televised on their expensive subscriptions. The television companies were not missing out on any revenue.
The pub was also in London. People going to a pub 400 miles from Glasgow to watch an illegal stream isn’t to impinge on Celtic’s gates as the viewers didn’t have the option of going to Celtic Park anyway. In fact, most would prefer to be in Glasgow watching the game in person, but following the club from a distance is a costly pastime. They are not shunning Celtic Park and diddling the club out of money because they would rather watch the game on the internet — they are watching the game on the web because they can’t afford to fly to Scotland every week, and the match isn’t available on their own fully paid up legitimate sports subscriptions at home.
Of course there are those who use illegal streams to watch games that are also being broadcast on British TV. While it may seem like a victimless crime, it will ultimately increase the price of TV sports subscriptions while a fall in subscribers will impact on the money your club receives. But when a pub (or an individual unable to travel to Celtic Park) is a fully paid up customer and the game isn’t being shown on British TV, why shouldn’t they watch the game via the web if it’s their only option? In fact many publicans, who already suffer under the burden of expensive commercial sports subscriptions, feel they have no choice but to supplement their income by enticing customers in with additional games, via streams and foreign boxes, that are not available on their British subscriptions.
Aside from those aforementioned ne’er-do-wells who watch all games illegally via the internet, most people don’t want something for nothing. The general consensus among the Celtic fans, who had switched codes for the day to watch Kilkenny thrash Galway, was that if there was a legitimate way to watch all Celtic games via the web, they would happily pay for it. I mean let’s be honest, watching internet streams is a fairly crap experience. After clicking away ads for sex aids and promos claiming you have won an iPad, you get an internet feed that buffers every two minutes. Commentary is usually by two men speaking an indeterminable language (though it’s still better than Craig Burley) and if you try increasing the screen size to anything larger than a credit card the players look like Lego men. All the while you’re leaving your computer open to the threat of viruses.
The gathered fans on Sunday agreed that an ideal solution would be a paid-for, official Celtic FC televised season ticket — a domestic equivalent to the club’s Celtic TV channel that allows Celtic’s huge fanbase outside Britain to watch games live on the web. It wouldn’t hinder the fans’ attendance at games — instead it would supplement their six-to-eight costly trips to games each season, while also allowing them to pay money directly to the club for a quality product rather than watch a jittery postage stamp-sized screen full of snow. At the minute fans in London and elsewhere in Britain feel as though they are in a no man’s land in terms of watching games — they live too far from Glasgow to attend matches regularly in person, yet don’t live far enough away to be able to legally access and pay for live games on the web.
Of course, broadcasters’ fears of losing their monopoly on live sports, and the traditional Saturday 3pm blackout, will likely ensure a dedicated (and profitable to Celtic, at least) Celtic Live TV channel remains a pipe dream for the foreseeable future. Until the broadcasters can work out how to get a slice of the action (and the money) from dedicated club TV channels, fans will have to make do with sporadic screenings of their teams on TV. At least as Celtic fans we’re guaranteed the lion’s share of televised SPL games — smaller clubs in Scotland (and England) play second fiddle to bigger clubs when the broadcasters are deciding which games to screen.
As long as the status quo remains, fans and pubs will continue trying to access live games unavailable elsewhere by any means possible.
Show your support for London CSCs
Sunday’s game against Hearts is, thankfully, being screened on television. I’ll be watching it in The Cock Tavern in King’s Cross, home of the Underground Celtic Supporters Club and London No.1 CSC. The award-winning community pub is coming under pressure to close from an offshore property company, despite landlady Sheila Gavigan having 12 years left on her lease at the popular venue.
A haven for Celtic fans in London for over a decade, the resident CSCs are now asking other supporters clubs to come down for the Hearts game in a show of solidarity. So if you can, bring your CSC banners and flags for the cameras to help support the Cock Tavern and save a much-valued supporters club.Celtic v Hearts, Sunday, October 7, kick-off 12.45pm. The Cock Tavern, 23 Phoenix Road, Euston, London, NW1 1HB.