Rosalba O'Brien

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Should we copy Argentina and broadcast football for free?

September 1, 2009

Argentina’s cash-strapped government has just laid out a wad of crisp pesos (600 million a year – about US$155 million – to be precise) to pay for the rights to broadcast Argentine league games for nada on TV .

It’s a move that is bound to go down well in the soccer mad nation, but has been roundly criticised for being populist and a waste of state funds.

It’s very much par for the course for the anti-business, pro-big government ruling Peronist party, who have hiked export taxes and even banned the export of beef in a misguided attempt to keep food prices low in Argentina.

But is this latest move really such a bad idea? What’s $155 million compared to the largest sovereign debt default in history?

Facing a long dark winter of recession and swine flu, couldn’t the governments of the northern hemisphere take a leaf out of Argentina’s book and add a little sparkle to people’s Saturdays with some free football?

Obtaining a ticket to watch a top flight game in Europe requires a month’s salary, a place on a waiting list going back three generations, or – for a select cohort of WAGs and their offspring – a family member on the pitch. So it’s no surprise the cable and satellite TV providers who shell out for the broadcast licences have a captive audience.

Elbowing them out would cost, sure. But I wonder – if the licence payers in the UK who fund the BBC got to vote for what their money was spent on, wouldn’t they choose live Premiership football at the expense of some over-cosseted presenters and the loss of a couple of Sunday night bodice rippers?

I suspect they might.

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