Football at fault for loss of Setanta’s 400 jobs

JOHN CROSS is annoyed, not just by the demise of Setanta, but by the way some have been reporting it

It is easy to dismiss the demise of Setanta as just a television company overstretching itself and hitting the wall. Until you see the human cost involved and the loss of around 400 jobs which has left good, enthusiastic and hungry journalists facing an uncertain future in an industry which is already in difficult times.

What is even more galling is that it all came down to a haggle over just £2.5million last Friday before the Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore decided to pull the plug on Setanta.
If you do the sums, that’s not a large amount for the chance to spare hundreds of people in this industry from being unemployed.

Sadly, in my view, the Premier League never really wanted Setanta in the first place because they are happy with Sky and are equally happy now to have the American broadcasting giant ESPN on board.

What I find incomprehensible is the way that so many journalists, pundits and writers have almost gloated in Setanta’s demise.

It’s so distasteful to have a journalist writing a blog on website describing Setanta’s coverage as “chimpanzees with video cameras”. Not great timing with those “chimpanzees” facing redundancy.

Hats off to Simon Brunton for that. Simon: please go and introduce yourself to one of Setanta’s former reporters, the enthusiastic, professional and excellent Natalie Pirks, for example, the next time you see her.

A phone-in on BBC 5 Live was almost inviting people to push for Setanta to be shut down. David Mellor wrote in the Standard that “if Setanta go out of business, I won’t shed any tears”.

Sorry, but would Mellor really write a column pleading for a van manufacturing plant being shut down at the cost of 400 jobs? Of course not. But then he doesn’t think about the human cost of 400 people who have mortgages, families and bills to pay like you and me.

I’m quite sure that my friends at Setanta haven’t appreciated all of the stories that Charlie Sale has been writing in the Daily Mail. But as with most things, Charlie – the best diarist in the business – has led the way with the whole story and used his industry contacts to great effect. Charlie is a brilliant journalist.

However, far too many others have taken far too much delight in the demise of Setanta, forgetting the loss of jobs and something new and different to Sky.

I should declare an interest here. For the past two years I’ve done Setanta’s newspaper review most Saturday mornings. I’ve also been on their Football Matters show, too.

It’s given me an insight into the office at ITN as they produced Setanta Sports News which was their rolling 24 hour news coverage. Setanta’s other shows were usually made in a studio in Chiswick.

The guys who work on Setanta Sports News are the lucky ones, as they are employed by ITN, so when Setanta went into administration their situation is slightly different.

ITN has been asked to try and redeploy those members of staff elsewhere. But, to be honest, none of them hold out much hope. They are likely to be given a redundancy package. Those employed by Setanta directly won’t be so lucky. The likes of fellow SJA member Dan Roan, an excellent TV journalist.

I’ve done a bit of TV work alongside my job on the Daily Mirror. And Setanta was a great place to go into with really enthusiastic staff. I used to look forward to my Saturday mornings, even getting up at 5.40am.

They were different from Sky and had excellent pundits like Steve McManaman. On FA Cup final day with Angus Scott in the studio, their show was far superior to ITV.

But in turning down Setanta’s last gasp attempt to salvage the station, Scudamore dismissed all of that out of hand. As soon as the Premier League pulled out, the station and its other rights were doomed.

In my view, the station was doomed when they lost one of their two sets of Premier League rights for the sake of £13 million.

They gambled on Sky not bidding so much for the second package. It’s maybe naive to forget just how close the Premier League and Sky are. Don’t get me wrong, Sky have been brilliant for the Premier League. They have revolutionised football coverage, brought in HD and the Premier League is now the best in the world. But competition is a good thing as it makes you try harder. How unhealthy would it be to have just one newspaper?

But from the moment Setanta lost one of their two sets of rights for 2010 onwards, investors and subscribers were thinking that Setanta was on the way down and were reluctant to back them. That, coupled with the recession, crippled Setanta.

For the past three weeks, it’s looked inevitable that Setanta would go under. But from nowhere, Setanta found a way out and a takeover solution with US-Russian tycoon Len Blavatnik offering to bail them out.

Setanta paid up £10 million to the Premier League on the Monday before last and then had to pay another £10 million last Friday. They found £7.5 million in cash and asked for time until last Monday to allow Blavatnik to go through the books and work out his sums on a tax issue.

Bearing in mind that Setanta had already paid £40 million up front for their rights, it seems very harsh for Scudamore to have turned round and taken back the Premier League rights and put the station out of business.

During Sky’s early days, they had troubled times. But the Premier League gave them every chance. Is there one set of rules for one and another for Setanta?

I went to a very emotional leaving do on Tuesday night where a lot of people were understandably upset. They are such nice, good people who have made my moments on screen a real pleasure.

Many had left good jobs elsewhere in the industry from TV, radio and newspapers to join Setanta and, in the current climate, have nothing to go back to.

That’s the really hard part. Don’t go thinking that they will just transfer across to ESPN. ESPN are intending to use Sky’s production staff and facilities at Isleworth.

There probably won’t be any rolling news channel and the matches will be shown as and when on Sky’s platform.

So to all those people who complained about having to pay an extra subscription to Setanta on top of what they pay to Sky… you will have to do the same with ESPN.

This is a sad day for our industry that a new, different channel, one that made mistakes but improved with time and experience, has gone out of business.

It’s even harder for several hundred journalists now out of work. No one has really paid much attention to that. Certainly not Scudamore. Nor David Mellor.

ESPN was a safe bet for the Premier League. They took it at the expense of Setanta and some very frustrated journalists.

John Cross is a sports writer with the Daily Mirror

For previous reports on Setanta:

ESPN grabs Setanta football rights for £90m

Missed SPL payment prompts urgent Setanta talks

Greaves’s comeback will have Brommers laughing

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