As the end of the season draws near and we start to reflect on how much we truly hate Chelsea, it is hard not to let your mind wander ahead to next season. Who will we sign over the summer? Will our star players commit to new contracts? How far can this team really go? How will we fare in the Champions League? Regardless of where you live in the world, these are exciting questions to ponder. However, something dark and foreboding sits menacingly on the horizon and it is not Mousa Dembele playing amateur optometrist. Incredibly, it is looking more and more likely that Australia's passionate OzSpur community may not live to see next season…..or any other season for that matter. Don’t worry, we haven’t all come down with a chronic case of Koala AIDS or entered into some murder/suicide pact on account of Leicester City winning the league. The reason is much more innocuous but no less terrifying. And the reason is this…..Singtel Optus Pty Ltd. Or as it is more commonly known, Optus.
What is an Optus you ask? Good question. It may seem like a fairly harmless little word but it actually embodies everything that is wrong with Australian business practices. On the surface, it is nothing more than a run-of-the-mill mobile phone and broadband provider Down Under. For those of you who are not familiar with all things Australian, just think back to the final days of NTL……but instead it is run by Dr. Evil and Skeletor…..on crack. And they have somehow managed to pull off one of the most audacious and under-handed corporate crimes since Nick Leeson thought it would be a good idea to have a few beers over lunch. They have only gone and kidnapped the Premier League…..no word of a lie. They have (legally) bought the TV rights for the Premier League in Australia and are now shamelessly holding them to ransom. It is quite literally the sort of mad cap, deplorable scheme that you would expect from Dr. Evil (maybe not so much Skeletor, he is in charge of HR)…..and I can guarantee that it stands to make much more than $1 million this time around. But here is the kicker……no one appears to be stopping them! The Government, far too preoccupied with the upcoming election and controlling the Koala AIDS, clearly has no appetite for dealing with such trivial matters as corporate terrorism.
For those of you that know me, you will know that I love a good rant as much as the next man. Unless of course, the next man is Kanye West. But before you accuse me of being overly dramatic, let me explain the ramifications of this deal to you. Optus, being predominantly a mobile phone company and part-time broadband provider, have no means by which to screen the Premier League viewing rights that they paid so handsomely to acquire. But rather than sell those rights to Foxtel (Australian Sky TV) or one of the public networks (Australian BBC) so that everyone can enjoy the beautiful game, they have decided to go in completely the opposite direction and be dicks about it instead. The Premier League will now be provided free to all Optus customers across Australia on any Optus device. That sounds great right? Well, no actually. Optus are, even by Australian standards, dreadful. Very few people actually have an Optus phone or broadband service, so the majority of the population definitely won’t be getting it for free. But that’s OK, all of those unlucky customers can just subscribe to watch the games instead, right? Again, that would be a no. Optus will only allow people to watch the team that they have been following for their whole lives, if they take out a 24-month contract for either a Mobile Phone or Broadband bundle that they neither need nor want. For the most part, this will involve customers cancelling their existing contracts with other, less evil providers (at a fee no doubt) in order to move their services across to Optus.
But this isn’t even the bad bit. Not only is all of this going to be streamed over the Optus Broadband network (which is notoriously slow and unreliable) but people living in regional areas (basically anywhere outside of Sydney or Melbourne) will not have access to the speed of broadband required to successfully watch the games! After a rather depressing conversation with my local "Optus EPL Ambassador", it turns out that Manly, only 15km from Sydney, is now one of those regional areas. Apparently (and he said this without even a hint of irony), Manly has run out of internet! It had something to do with the telephone exchange and Optus not being able to take on new customers in the area but essentially, I have no choice but to sell my flat and move to a more Optus-friendly neighbourhood. In my minds eye, I can already see the look of disdain on my marriage counsellors face. But back to Optus, who are quite literally holding the Premier League to ransom, in order to increase their market share for household broadband. You can only gain access to the product that you want, if you also purchase a totally unrelated product that you really don’t want. If you were to look up the definition of "extortion" in the dictionary, I am fairly certain that is how it would read....
Just to put this in context, it is essentially the equivalent of Vodafone UK buying the Premier League rights ahead of BSkyB and then telling people that they can only watch football on their Vodafone mobiles or tablets…..or through buying their brand new, untested TV package that is just as likely to burn your house down as it is to stream live football games. And they will also insist upon a 24-month contract, just in case you have the nerve to complain after sitting through 90 minutes of buffering. I can guarantee that if it can ruin porn for everyone, it will definitely ruin football for everyone. Even the Financial Review, which you would think would look kindly upon such bald-faced profiteering, has described the move as an impending “PR disaster”. This sort of behavior would obviously never be tolerated in the UK and would probably lead to wide scale rioting…although admittedly it doesn’t take much for us to riot nowadays. Certainly not in Tottenham anyway. But I suppose that this is Australia. This is a country that thinks a monopoly is just a board game for kids and where Corporate Social Responsibility can only be found in a text book. Australian companies have ritualistically been extorting a fairly docile population for decades and this situation is no different. Except for one thing…..they grossly underestimated how much the British love to complain…..and it is mostly the ex-pats that are being affected by this. Anne Robinson would have been all over this in her prime. And the man behind this proverbial shit storm? Introducing Optus CEO and possible puppy murderer (unconfirmed), Allen Lew. After all, this is allegedly his brainchild. Almost overnight, he has gone from constipated looking laundromat owner to the most hated man in Australia, which is all the more impressive when you consider that Rolf Harris is still alive.
So as you can see, Optus has a huge number of innocent football fans over a barrel. But in the timeless words of Harvey Specter (massive Yiddo by the way) “When someone puts a gun to your head, what do you do? You pull out a bigger gun”. Now before people get too carried away or report me to Crimestoppers, I am definitely not suggesting that we kill Allen Lew…..I think if we are patient enough the constipation will take care of that for us. I am merely suggesting that we bombard the ACCC with complaints, boycott all Optus products forthwith and destroy them (with our words) on social media. A good place to start would be to sign the following petition:
Make no mistake, this battle with Optus will be a generation defining moment for Spurs fans in Australia. We have been spoilt for choice in recent years, being able to watch almost every game live and uninterrupted. But now, we stand to lose it all. This will be our Vietnam. But more than anything, I really hope that this blog finally does something productive and raises awareness of our plight back in the UK, because the FA are anything but blameless in this debacle. They shouldn’t just be selling the television rights to the highest bidder but instead considering the Premier League “experience” all around the world. After all, it is a global brand and I am sure that they want it to stay that way. Just because we are in a different hemisphere doesn’t mean that we love football any less! And just to be abundantly clear, no one is asking for Optus to give up the rights to the Premier League. We are merely asking that they be sold on to someone who actually has the infrastructure to utilise it. And I am sure that most fans would be more than happy to pay Optus a subscription fee, similar to the current approach with Foxtel. They are just a little peeved at the prospect of having to remortgage their house in order to do so. No one is against Optus making money…..but everyone is against Optus blackmailing people into becoming customers. And unless some serious compromises are made in the next few months, no one (including Optus) is going to benefit from this "brave new world". Except for maybe the Newcastle fans. They may face insurmountable problems both on and off the pitch right now but luckily for them, worrying about watching the Premier League next season is certainly not one of them.....and I envy them for that.