We’re witnessing a gear-shift in how fans are seen, and heard. Something has arrived that finally gives fans a voice at their clubs, that gives them the right to be heard, and the tools to do it.
Apparently, that’s ‘Fan TV’. Particularly, Arsenal Fan TV, whose founder declares little short of a revolution in the rights of fans – and only a rhetorical flourish shy of employing the epithet ‘hardworking’. And we didn’t realise that, all along, it was almost literally staring us in the face. He’s got a mic, and he’s not afraid to use it.
Whenever I hear of revolutions, or radical new ideas declared in the world of football fans and ‘engagement’ declared, I’m always sceptical. When I was at Supporters Direct, I had a steady stream of approaches from people declaring that they had found the the tool, the format, the idea, the campaign, that wasn’t just going to change the world, but in many cases, make them a living. And looking back at these ideas – creating a groundbreaking platform for fans to organise and engage, or provide an opportunity for fans to get their voice heard, pretty much every single one of them died a death. A handful of them at least exist, but none of them have represented the gear-shift that they first declared. Many of them never got past that first conversation, I think because the majority expected me to help them to do a load of the heavy lifting (and provide access to our database of contacts into the bargain).
Arsenal Fan TV is clearly doing well. Accordingly, its founder now does it as a full-time job, and I think that’s great. It’s a tough ask, working for yourself, pitching to clients, looking for new opportunities, and if you can strike, well, oil I suppose, then bully for you.
But this is basically vox-pops, and there’s nothing new in that. And Web 2.0 is quite hat old now, and fans have loads of opportunities to do shouty pieces into their own mics. The idea that Robbie Lyle, Arsenal Fan TV’s founder, has hit on an idea that frees the fan-slave from their shackles, and allows them, once more, to speak freely, is just him trying to sell his product. Take this: “When I started it off you would never ever hear from fans. You’d hear from pundits, ex-players, you guys in the media. You’d never hear from the guys who spend their hard-earned money, emotions and time going to see games.” (From The Guardian)
The idea that Fan TV in any sense is a radical departure from anything is a very large piece of marketing speak, and Arsenal Fan TV has become a micro-media company that needs to flog its content. This is perfectly normal these days. In the same way that people can be ‘citizen journalists’. creating their own platforms to parade their opinions, he needs people to consume what he’s doing – he needs viewers, and he uses the copywriter’s flourish to draw them in.
I remember I used to bemoan the vox pops as the principal was that fans got heard: the infant Premier League coverage on Sky Sports – with the BBC usually not far behind – would trawl the streets before or after a match to get the views of fans about whatever the issue of the day was. Fair enough, and sometimes there was the odd nugget. Butit was basically the same, on Five Live or wherever. These days it’s also obsessively reading out tweets.
And all that Lyle – and others – have done, is to hit upon the idea that there’s a market for fans who want to watch other fans sound off, or that fans want to watch stuff related to their club. I’ll watch anything Wimbledon related. Even people sounding off about the left-back. (Largely so I can get annoyed with them in some sort of superior act of self-righteousness.)
Maybe what was important was supporters not being satisfied with vox-pops, and realising they didn’t have to be the beginning and the end of it. Maybe vox-pops – originally – helped to expose that. That the lone voice in the crowd, weeping and gnashing in despair about the state of their club as it they felt it was sold down the river, wasn’t actually a lone voice, but in fact was joined by a chorus of tens, hundreds, thousands of others.
In fact, whisper it quietly, but the real radical departure was a gentleman in Northamptonshire in 1992, by name of Brian Lomax, who told the world of fans that shouting about the result, or demanding the head of the manager, wasn’t all it needed to be about. And this was when the Web 1.0 was still a tool for academics alone! ‘Radical’ was the idea that you could as fans, speak to your club, and the club would listen, and might be prepared to do something differently as a result. And in fact, these days, it’s actually something that is beginning to happen, and it’s not just about the price of pies.
That’s the radical, brave new world we now live in, and a lot of it is happening before our very eyes, without us even noticing it. And it doesn’t take a shiny new You Tube channel to make it happen.