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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

TV Deal Not What Football Needs Today

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President Vladimir Putin's reaction to NTV-Plus acquiring the broadcasting rights for Premier League football matches probably had as much to do with election-year populism as it did with his concern for the good of the game.

Putin objected that the deal would "deprive us, the average fans, of the chance to watch football for free."

If the president were primarily concerned with ensuring access to top-flight football, however, he might better have convinced state-owned RTR-Sport to sweeten its bid, which paled in comparison with NTV-Plus' offer of some $100 million over four years.

Moreover, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, whom Putin assigned to sort out the situation, is chairman of Gazprom, which effectively controls NTV-Plus through the Gazprom-Media holding.

But Putin did draw attention to the likelihood that many fans will see far fewer games this season.

NTV-Plus is offering a football-only package for 299 rubles ($11.40) per month, a sum that will be beyond the means of some, not including a one-time connection fee of 7,450 rubles (about $280).

Football fans who don't hook up to NTV-Plus will have to be content with one match per week on Channel One. Regional stations also retain the right to broadcast matches involving their local clubs.

Time will tell if the deal makes good business sense, although the news that sponsor Rosgosstrakh is thinking about renegotiating its $53 million, five-year contract with the league is hardly an encouraging sign.

Most major European leagues have reached similar agreements with pay-TV operators over the last 15 years. In England, for example, the most recent three-season television contract netted the English Premier League £1.7 billion ($3.1 billion) -- £1.3 billion from BSkyB and £392 million from rival pay-TV outfit Setanta. This income is crucial to the league's financial health.

Supporters of the Russian deal, such as Dynamo Moscow general director Dmitry Ivanov, have said it will deliver a similar benefit to the Premier League's 16 clubs, especially smaller clubs in the regions.

Yet even a cheerleader like Ivanov has called for a more gradual transition to pay-TV, suggesting that NTV start by offering 20 matches for free on its national channel.

Access to televised games is just one cause for concern with the NTV-Plus deal, however.

Much has been said about the need to improve the standard of the game in this country, and particularly about the need to foster young talent.

In this context, the switch to pay-TV seems premature. If they can't watch their heroes -- Igor Akinfeyev, Alexei Berezutsky, Dmitry Sychyov and the rest -- in action, what will the potential stars of tomorrow have to aspire to?