When I first received a press release about MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) I misread it as MOTD, which is slightly ironic given all the football-related palaver it later generated. Although I read it with interest, even cynical old me didn’t anticipate that a niche online-only subscription service, launched at an event explicitly themed around field sports, could generate so much negative coverage in the national press. Yes, more than 100,000 people attended The Game Fair where it was launched, but that’s a drop in the ocean – fewer than those who listed their religion as ‘jedi’ in the last census.
It’s a bit like a player for a bottom division team suddenly being catapulted into – no, you know what, I draw the line at football metaphors, not least because I have no idea what I’m talking about. And while I’m on the subject I have to warn you, dear readers, that in the following lines I am probably going to be a teensy bit nasty about football and its supporters. You may find it hypocritical that I will be judging a sport I know nothing about by what I read in the media but… well, you would be absolutely right. In my defence, however, this is entirely for the purposes of humour and justified by headlines such as “Violence breaks out ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham derby match”, “Surprise attack by Arsenal fans seeking revenge sparked battle” and – my personal favourite – “Football fans in brutal fight over last pie at club shop”.
Hypocrisy is also a pretty good unifying theme for the media coverage that followed when the channel was launched. Let’s recap: one minute MOTV is at the Game Fair touting for business as the Netflix of the hunting world, the next it’s embroiled in controversy. This is partly because of the content it streams, but largely because it’s owned by someone called Stan Kroenke. Unfortunately for everyone, this Kroenke fellow also owns a two-thirds share in Arsenal – and not the fun kind of arsenal either. It isn’t the only sports team he owns, but it certainly is the whiniest.
We have a funny attitude towards large corporations in this country. Coca-Cola, for example, have a fascinating history with the Third Reich, yet that hasn’t stopped it being England’s most popular soft drink. (Scotland’s is Irn-Bru. Seriously.) Everyone loves a chocolate bar, even if Nestlé deprives entire Pakistani villages of water to fill their mineral water bottles, and very few people are concerned about where their pension money is invested as long as it brings in good returns.
For some reason, however, football fans take the ethical stance of their management very seriously. This is completely understandable, of course, because football’s overarching body, the FA, is one of the most fair, morally upright and incorruptible organisations in the world. As long as that world is Poundworld.
Combine a prominent figure with fan outrage and you have more than enough fuel for the journalistic happy dance. While the issue was bound to be picked up in a few places without the Arsenal connection – LACS would have undoubtedly welcomed the chance to warm up before their main sprint on 12 August – this combination doomed it to far greater prominence.
In terms of tone, the articles ranged from neutral to condemnatory. The ones I found particularly offensive were those that chose to reproduce angry social media outbursts from fans as part of the piece. The authors’ defence would be that these posts are proof of fans’ feelings, but there was not even a hint of apology for encouraging the kind of posts that can quickly degenerate into offensive tirades. Given the recent death – also well profiled in the media – of Spanish huntress Melania Capitan, this is inexcusable. Articles about the tragic death of the 27-year-old avoided explicitly linking it to the abuse she had been subjected to on social media, but there was enough of a suggestion to encourage a dialogue about the consequences of such behaviour. Not one of the recent pieces even thought to reference this, despite many of them quoting some of the MOTV films’ stars in a manner that was designed to provoke an emotional response.
Inevitably, a host of famous faces also jumped on the bandwagon – Ben Fogle, Piers Morgan, Kevin Pietersen and Robert Peston, all calling for fans to boycott the club. Even Corbyn got involved, saying “As an Arsenal fan I’m disgusted that Stan Kroenke is involved in such a brutal, unethical and unnecessary activity. This is not sport. Kroenke should stick to football if he wants to be involved in sport.”
Why Jeremy Corbyn felt the need to get involved is beyond me. It’s not politics. Corbyn should stick to actually relevant issues (Brexit, anyone?) if he wants to be involved in politics.
MOTV themselves were pretty much sidelined in the whole debate, and the fact that Arsenal and the channel became inextricable demonstrates how warped the argument had become. For many of the hundreds of thousands of petition signers, either Kroenke or the channel had to be removed. Being involved with MOTV, apparently, made Kroenke “an unsuitable individual to represent the Arsenal Football Club at any level”, which neatly ignored any idea that a club should be run by someone who knows about business or football. Given the amount football fans get fleeced for tickets, I’d say he probably knows at least one of them quite well.
I started to wonder whether the response would have been anywhere near as bad if Kroenke had instead launched a porn channel. Obviously not at The Game Fair, unless I’ve been missing that section all these years.
There was nothing illegal about what the channel was doing, nor was it taking public money to produce its programmes, which promote conservation and responsibility alongside hunting. But it became the victim of people wanting to shout about a certain kind of ‘ethics’, one that refuses to acknowledge its own hypocrisy or enter into a grown-up debate. My favourite proponent of this is Chas Newkey-Burden, whom I Googled after reading his poorly argued opinion piece on the issue in the Guardian. Chas, I discovered, writes copious numbers of books about celebrities, some of which he publishes under a pseudonym to protect himself from the fallout from his offensive and damaging nonsense. Just the sort of chap that would buy the last pie.