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Fanzine fight for the right to print fixtures


28 June 2002
Henley, Oxfordshire
I'd imagine these are the same bastards who've forced pesfan to remove their option files... db

Fanzine fight for the right to print fixtures

[FONT=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Small websites are being threatened with closure as the leagues insist on payment for match data[/FONT]

[FONT=Geneva,Arial,sans-serif]David Conn Sports news reporter of the year
Wednesday December 21, 2005
The Guardian

[/FONT]With the season of comfort, joy and compulsive over-eating almost upon us it is sad to report that the troubling case of the Watford Two still rumbles on. Ian Grant and Matthew Rowson argue they are guilty of nothing more than the words in the title of their Watford fanzine website, which Grant, 35, a web designer, launched in December 1994. The internet was then in its rapid ascendant; Watford, it would be fair to say, were not. Grant saw a band play in Brighton and decided its name encapsulated perfectly the Watford fan's existence: Blind, Stupid and Desperate.

Rowson, 32, a statistician by profession and lifelong Watford fan, began to contribute to www.bsad.org seven years ago and the pair, co-editors now, spend a difficult-to-justify amount of time maintaining the site's fond, ironic chronicling of life with the Hornets. They make no money from it; in fact it costs them £60 for an internet server. They have produced a book and some T-shirts but donated the proceeds to charity or, when the club was in financial crisis in 2002, to the supporters' trust.
So when, at the beginning of this season, the site received what Grant and Rowson felt were threatening legal letters demanding the removal of offensive content they were shocked. They refused, their server was contacted and BSaD was taken off the internet until Grant and Rowson backed down. The heinous material that caused the problems? Watford FC's fixtures for 2005-06. "We were extremely surprised and did feel bullied," Rowson says. "We do the fanzine for the love of writing about football, with about 1,000 regular hits weekly. We never thought the outside world was even aware of us."
That was reckoning without the keen commercial enforcers at DataCo. This is a company owned by the Premier and Football Leagues, whose job is to charge for publication of the fixture lists, as well as the increasing volume of other data, including match statistics, to which the clubs claim copyright. The operation makes £7m-£8m for English and Scottish professional clubs, paid by 22,000 newspapers, bookmakers, websites and broadcasters here and worldwide. The fee is standard: £266 plus VAT to print the fixtures of one English club. Newspapers printing the fixtures of all clubs, plus a delivery fee, pay around £6,000 plus VAT to DataCo. BSaD, oblivious, printing their own club's forthcoming fixtures, were asked for £266 plus VAT or told they must take them down.
"It was farcical," Rowson says. "With all the time and money I'm already spending on the fanzine, can you imagine me telling my wife I'm about to spend £266 for the right to print Watford's fixtures? It was never going to happen."
Rowson and Grant are, instead, enjoying a phoney war with DataCo, flagging up a few of Watford's forthcoming fixtures but without mentioning dates. "Why can't you see the rest of the fixtures?" the site asks. "Because we're not allowed to show you them. Never forget, people, that football is just a means to make money."
But DataCo is unembarrassed and has pressed on with enforcing its rights against other offenders. The Southampton site www.saintsforever.com has felt the sharp sting of contact from DataCo, as has Simon Wilson, who runs the excellent www.codalmighty.com, a Grimsby site ringing with joyful self-mockery. "It seems like pure greed," Wilson says, "the League squeezing as much from the devoted fans as they can."
If this seems a classic case of big-business football, Scrooge-like, screwing its own most loyal followers then David Folker, DataCo's general manager, makes a reasonable fist of an apparently impossible justification.
The story begins in 1959, when the Football League successfully sued Littlewoods, forcing the company to pay for printing the fixtures on pools coupons. At that time the League seemed a more deserving case: the clubs were charging pennies at the turnstiles and there was no TV income but the pools companies were making fortunes. The money, Folker says, became the clubs' major collective source of cash. That case has never been challenged and now, Folker says, the income of around £7.5m is shared equally between all clubs, so 56% goes to the 72 Football League clubs. Only 18% is paid to the 20 English Premier League clubs.
"That's around £67,000 per Premiership club," Folker says. "It's very little to the big clubs but for the 30 Scottish Football League clubs, 22% of their total revenue comes from DataCo. This is not the big clubs looking to make money from fans' sites, not at all. We recognise that the fans are the lifeblood of the game." Why so heavy-handed, then? Folker's argument is that they have no choice under competition law. "We have to be consistent."
DataCo argue that if they make exceptions, even for non-profit-making distributors - and Folker says, validly, that this is not always easy to ascertain as some fanzines do make money - they could be open to challenge by commercial organisations, like newspapers, who pay up only grudgingly now for what they feel is good advertising for the clubs.
Some years ago, to recognise the contribution of fanzines, DataCo struck a deal. It agreed that clubs could officially "nominate" one fanzine each that would then pay a token £1 and be allowed to publish fixtures. None of the websites confronted by DataCo were aware of this at first. Rowson, anyway, saw problems immediately: there is more than one fanzine at most clubs and also, though BSaD has a good relationship with Watford, becoming officially "nominated" is a sure way to destroy a fanzine's credibility.
Some believe the Littlewoods case could be successfully challenged now and a law firm has offered its services to Rowson and Grant for free - they're currently considering whether they can face it. Folker, meanwhile, argues that however strange it seems this is for the overall good of the game.
"The news-papers, broadcasters and bookmakers are commercial organisations and it is right they pay for printing the fixtures. We're happy if fanzines write an editorial piece which mentions a forthcoming game but they cannot print a list of fixtures with the dates."
Where were we again? Oh yes, with a couple of Watford fans, running a fanzine full of warm, amusing reports and reflections on following their club. Blind, Stupid and Desperate - and now quite cross.
How to raise £7.5m a year
Landmark victory
The Football League wins a case against Littlewoods in 1959, successfully claiming copyright in the printed fixtures of their clubs. Income from the pools companies pays for ground development.
DataCo formed
Premier, Football and Scottish leagues reorganise their approach to marketing data to exploit mobile phone, internet and other new media. DataCo is formed to charge centrally for the fixtures. Match information including player stats is gathered by the Press Association and also sold by DataCo.
High demand
Customers include 8,400 betting shops in the UK, newspapers, Sky TV, who use the information on their on-screen tickertape, and broadcasters in 193 countries.
Annual fee
Cost of publishing a single club's fixtures is placed at £266 plus VAT.
Exemption agreed
Publishers of the fixtures are charged, but each club can nominate one fanzine to pay a token £1 for the right.
Equal pay-outs
Unlike TV money, the distribution is egalitarian, approximately:
18% to the Premier League clubs;
56% to Football League clubs;
25% to Scotland, mostly to Scottish Football League clubs. Revenue generated by DataCo: £7.5m.
New ruling
The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg ruled last December that football authorities cannot charge for fixture lists under the EU's database directive 1996. The 1959 case, though, has never been challenged.
£5,000 Amount raised by the Watford fanzine Blind, Stupid and Desperate from the book You Are My Watford in 2002. The co-editors donated the money to the supporters' trust.



Retired Footballer
8 January 2002
Over the moon
KRC Genk, Spurs
Great thread Db (although i don't think you will get much replies, but i hope i'm wrong).
This article is a perfect example of the way football and everything around it, is over-commercialised and has nothing to do with the democratic mass-entertainment that football is supposed to be.

I'm not surprised that this is an article of David Conn. He has written a book about these things: one of the best football books ever written: "The beautiful game???

It's a must read.


30 March 2003
London -> New York -> San Francisco
Liverpool FC
A few years ago, a good friend once told me that football will soon be a passing fad.

It was hard to believe then, but it is worringly becoming believable now. Keeping the short term attractions like money, glamour and commercialism aside, the fans and their loyalty is what football is ultimately about. It is this what is keeping it alive. These actions will sooner or later bring the eventual demise of football as we know today. FIFA Twats.

btw...apologies for the sombre post. This thread is the first thing I saw after watching Hotel Rwanda :(


Retired Footballer
8 January 2002
Over the moon
KRC Genk, Spurs
Great what Up the Arse did...
And Rockykabir, yes in the end it's all about fans and their loyalty...
But fans are somewhat blind in their loyalty too...
What is needed is a very strong signal from the fans to show that have enough and that they want the way the game is administrated to change (for example the action plan that Four Four Two proposed recently).

What could be a signal???

First signal: all premiership fans come deliberately 10 minutes too late on one match day.

Second signal: all premiership fans come only to watch the second half.

Third signal: all premiership stay away for one entire match...but hold protest meetings in the immediate vicinity of the stadiums.

Utopia...i know...most fans loyalty is too blind to do that...they have a right to be treated as customers and not as mere stage property for the show that is television (and where the real money is for the clubs).


rockykabir said:
btw...apologies for the sombre post. This thread is the first thing I saw after watching Hotel Rwanda :(

That movie ranked in the top 10 for Least Likely to Get You Laid on a First Date, IIRC. ;)
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