Football crazy

October 6, 2009 12.24 UK

The Ukraine v England match will be shown live on the Internet, and not for the first time thereís little the Football Association can do about it.

Thereís something about England football internationals that brings out the sense of adventure in broadcasters. Helped by the overseas football associations and their agents, the broadcast rights can end up with absolutely anyone, rather than the Football Association-brokered deals of the home matches held at Wembley. In the case of Ukraine v England itís the online sports broadcaster Perform that has purchased the UK rights, previously held by Setanta, and will relay the pictures over the internet using a series of deals with newspaper websites.

Letís be clear from the start, and from a non-football fan, it is too soon for broadband internet to be used in this way even if England has already qualified. Perform, however, have shown some deft passing skills. Using the written media potentially mutes the criticism, TV however has been running mock-ups of how bad the pictures will look, and one BBC News channel presenter said it would be impossible for him to get a strong enough signal where he lived. Presumably it perks up for the iPlayer.

But TV has form in this area and an action replay from May 1997 and the two-month old Channel 5, still with relatively poor UK coverage, but with the marketing skills to know that Poland v England would teach the audience what the fifth button on their remote was for.

However no one was prepared for U Direct, not even U Direct, which acquired Finland v England for £2.75 million in October 2000 and charged £10 on pay-per-view. At the time there were accusations, largely denied, there had been picture break-up and that the operatorís website had crashed. Bad luck or interests at work?

Punters turning up at the last minute and creating online turnstyle congestion is an occupational hazard in every sport. Perform is charging £4.99 for those who register in advance, rising to £11.99 on Saturday, the day of the match. Helpful that news of the deal, signed and announced in early September, should find its way into the mainstream media at the start of the week.

Perform was formed from a merger of Premium TV and the Inform Group in 2007. It runs the Omni Sport website with a line-up of sport that includes football, rugby and darts. It also represents many English football interests including Premier League clubs, the Football League and The FA Cup.

At one time NTL, now known as Virgin Media, had invested £110m in the old Premium TV. When NTL filed for bankruptcy in 2002, Premium TV was sold to the crisis and turnaround advisory group Quest Turnaround Advisors. In turn it passed to its management and Access Industries, the Len Blavatnik vehicle, whose interests also include Top Up TV and, briefly, Setanta Sports, which of course held the Ukraine v England rights in the first place.