The end of the era of free-to-air football has arrived. President Mauricio Macri’s government and the authorities inside the Argentine Football Association (AFA) should give supporters a higher priority as they reform the sport.
The times they are achangin’. After months of what may go down in history of one of the meanest, most miserable electoral campaigns in recent memory, President Mauricio Macri has emerged from the polls strengthened and seemingly more confident.
Just what the ‘change’ so vehemently promised from the government will mean shall be seen further down the line, but even the world of football is expected to feel the difference before too long.
Football fans will indeed feel the first change in their pockets almost immediately. In a pretty shabby piece of electoral manipulation TNT and Fox, the two US-based companies given broadcasting rights for the new Superliga (“Super League”), were convinced not to implement plans to charge for their services until after the final ballot had been tallied. “It is simply a coincidence,” government sources insisted to La Nación, but it is clear in any case that now that the public’s opinion has been gauged, it is apparently safe to lift the veil. From this weekend onwards most of the Superliga’s clashes will be behind a paywall, even for cable customers. Just four games, predictably featuring none of the ‘big five’ of Boca Juniors, River Plate, San Lorenzo, Independiente and Racing Club, will still be open to non-subscribers, a pattern that looks set to continue for the rest of the season.
Anyone not satisfied by the likes of Colón’s visit to Banfield or the clash between Defensa y Justicia and Olimpo will have to pay out a monthly fee of 300 pesos to unlock the rest of the fixture list, a further hit to the pocket after a 10-percent petrol hike following the elections and further raises expected in utilities before the year is out. Unfortunately, there is little word on what else will change in a local game that is crying out for transformation.
Take the sticky issue of away fan attendance, for example. Visitors have been excluded from almost every single Primera División and Superliga game for over four years, an admission of defeat from the authorities after decades of failing to guarantee safety at big games. The move has not eradicated football violence, nor put a single dent in the hooligan groups that still hold so much sway around stadiums. Yet in a depressing case of making the exceptional the norm, this black mark appears to have fallen off any politician’s agenda.
“We can see in the new AFA leadership and with the Superliga a different commitment with the security issue,” Guillermo Madero, head of a football taskforce in the Security Ministry told Clarín back in August.
Madero was full of possible solutions to the impasse, including new ticket sale systems, biometric data at gates and tighter regulations. But so far little of that has translated into reality, and the return of away fans looks no closer than it did at the start of Macri’s government almost two years ago. How long can this shameful situation continue?
At the very least, Macri’s insistence on chasing the 2030 World Cup alongside Uruguay and Paraguay should ensure some movement on this issue when the bid is in full swing, as showing FIFA spectators stadiums with fans banished would be a spectacular own goal. But what of further down the leagues, where substandard safety measures have literally proved deadly in some cases, as with Emanuel Ortega, the San Martín de Burzaco player who passed away after crashing into a perimeter wall?
Argentinos Juniors’ home clash with Arsenal yesterday evening was the first available only to subscribers of Pack Fútbol.
Prior to this weekend, clients could watch any Superliga game in standard definition, while high definition transmissions were restricted to those who paid out. So far Turner and Fox claim they have received 800,000 subscriptions nationwide, with that number expected to spike ahead of the November 5 Superclásico clash between River Plate and Boca Juniors.
Clients of the Telecentro and Cablevisión cable operators and those possessing a DirecTV satellite package in the Greater Buenos Aires area have the opportunity to add the football package to their monthly subscriptions. To do so customers should contact their operator, and in most cases connection to the service should be immediate. The monthly fee of 300 pesos will also allow clients to view games via their computers, cellphones or tablets as part of the same package.