23 October 2012

A Plea for Common Sense, and A Way Forward

by Shane Nicholson | CRO Executive Editor

I was following along with a Twitter dialogue earlier today (a lot of you probably saw it too) between a club employee and a couple people affiliated with a fairly new-to-the-scene and certainly popular RFC fans' site. Names left out as they're not important to the story I'm about to tell.

What struck me was the fact that the club still views illegal streaming of games as a revenue sapper, and obviously employs people who, in some part of their duties, tries to get such streams shut down. Couple things here:

1) This RFC fans' site, which is driving conversation and raising the profile of the club (and by the way, like the CRO, based in the States), does not host these streams. They're already out there at numerous sites you can find in five seconds with Google. You've probably got quite a few of them bookmarked like I do.

2) The club is chasing a business model that simply does not exist. Period.

You have a product that you sell for a set price. People do not see value in said product at that price. So now people procure said product for a discounted price or free - even though the free version is typically a far inferior product - rather than paying for the version you provide. On top of that, you pay someone (multiple someones?) to chase down people (usually the wrong people) providing the free version of your product which your customers are choosing not to pay for. 

So who's costing whom money again?

There's a disconnect here, and we see it in all forms of media. When Napster exploded onto the scene over a decade ago now the music industry's immediate reaction was to sue the fuck out of anyone it caught pirating music, and then go after the website facilitating such pirating. Over a decade later and it's still at the core of their practices. Only recently have the larger companies (your Sonys, your BMGs, etc) figured out that this was a serviceable model to provide their product for customers, but only if the value could meet a customer's want to pay for it.

Of course in the mean time the artists woke up to the fact that, Hey, I could just sell my album for $5 on my website and make about $4.67 more than if I let these numpties do it. The old model has slowly died while the companies preserving it were pissing away valuable resources suing college students for millions of dollars.

This is where we are with football today. Lots and lots of “illegal stream" sites under all different names in every corner of the globe providing to a massive market that is crying out for a service. And the worst part is that watching matches on these sites sucks. It is shit awful most of the time. You've got a million pop ups to cut through, then the ads that scream in right as Dean Shiels is feeding a ball through to Lee McCul-THE FORD FALL SAVINGS EVENT. It is absolute crap.

And yet we'd rather deal with this inconvenience, potentially miss important moments in the match, than shell out for something we don't feel is value for money. And I'm not blaming Rangers solely here. I think RTV has been a good boost in many ways. But customers vote with their feet, and our club is trying to cling to a fee-based model in a world where there are simply too many options that offer better value for the service provided. Yeah, the pop up ads suck, but it's free.

Let's look at Netflix: I pay $7 a month to have access to thousands or programs and films that I used to pay my cable company $70 a month for and then I would still have to wait for them to come on so I could watch. The old model is essentially what Rangers via RTV is providing me for $28.50 a month, and they're wasting time and resources defending it, and it makes zero sense.

There are so many ways as a club and fan base we should be thankful for where we are right now, because it will offer us a chance to rip up the old rules and lay down some new ones. But if Rangers continues to have a go at fans for willfully consuming their product at what they perceive is a fair-market-value (in this case free) they're not only insulting our intelligence but selling their own product short.

The club has advertising partners, big ones. Would Coke/Powerade not pay a premium if the club could show that 500,000 additional customers could be reached directly every weekend? And with zero competitors knocking at the door? Of course they would.

Rangers has two very clear paths forward here, and two paths that would reap massive rewards for the business: 

They can either provide a massively superior broadcast product to the one we get now, and at a price that is irresistible to the consumer. Do I want to pay $18 for this CD? No. Will I pay $1 for this one track? Absolutely.Or they give it away, and sell their product to advertisers willing to part with their money instead of to the fans who are the reason those advertisers are there in the first place, and who already pile money hand-over-fist into their business.

Yeah, there are broadcast rights and league rules and SFA rules and all of that other bullshit. Get stuck in, stop paying people to chase down Johnny Fan with a stream on his site and start paying them to rewrite the rules. It's likely that Johnny Fan is not even streaming the game himself anyway; just linking to a stream that already exists that someone else is making money from.

And it should be clear to anyone that Johnny Fan is not “costing the club money;” the club is costing itself money by steadfastly adhering to a dying business model. You think The First Row and VIP Sports and all of them would do what they do if there wasn't money to be made in it? You don't think the club itself could command far more from its advertisers for producing a superior product targeted at a five-million-strong worldwide fan base?

Listen, Charles, Malcolm, Imran, Brian: I know it's going to be tough. There's going to be some hard moments, some delicate conversations, but it'll be worth it. Charlie, you talked recently about the Rangers brand reaching some 500 million fans. I think that's insane and you had to be taking the piss a bit (the World Cup Final gets one-billion viewers, after all).

But if you want to expand beyond the five-million we're touting now you're going to have to start hunting outside the box. We have that many fans in a broadcast model that's existed for generations now. Simply charging people to watch the same product online is not going to open new doors, and it's not going to cut it. It's the same fee-based broadcast model we've always had and we're sick of it.

So sit down there, take a deep breath, realize that change is not always comfortable, the sun will still come up, on and on. Then stop taking part in fighting a losing war. It'll be better for all of us, I promise.

Shane is the founder and Executive Editor of the CRO. You can find him on Twitter at @ofvoid and via email: shane@thecoplandroad.org