OPINION: Are Fan Channels Impacting on Player Performance?

March 12, 2018

- Grant Whittington

During the Premier League era, the idea of branded television channels has become increasingly popular. Middlesbrough launched the first subscription channel of this type back in 1997, with Manchester United’s popular MUTV following suit one year later.

Fast-forward 20 years, and we’ve seen a new phenomenon emerge on the back of Sky Sport’s innovative and incredibly popular ‘Fan Zone’. More specifically, we’ve seen a number of supporter-led channels make their mark as broadcasting has evolved, with ArsenalFan TV the most notorious and well-known.

The question that remains, of course, is whether channels of this type are impacting on player performances, and increasing the pressure that they face to perform?

Let’s explore this further.

ArsenalFan TV and Others – A Scourge on the Modern Game?

Now, Arsenal’s decline since their halcyon days in the mid-noughties has been well documented, and this has created an army of anguished and frustrated fans. It is from this that ArsenalFan TV was born, and there’s no doubt that the channel has become renowned for its savage attacks on players and the lack of restraint shown by those who appear as guests.

Other clubs have similar channels, of course, which is only natural in an age where individuals can broadcast through sites as YouTube with minimal financial outlay. Still, the level of vitriol showcased through ArsenalFan TV has established this as a standard barer for support channels, while drawing criticism from both current and former professionals.

Gary Neville entered the fray last year by labelling the channel as “embarrassing”, before agreeing to appear on the channel to discuss his comments and the state of Arsene Wenger’s team. Gunners’ right back Hector Bellerin has also joined in the debate recently, describing channels of this type as “so wrong” and “building their success on the back of failure”.

The latter point seems to be at the heart of the issue with supporter channels such as ArsenalFan TV, with Bellerin even suggesting that the people that drive the channel are not genuine fans of the club. This supports the widely-held assertion that the channel is motivated solely by the desire to achieve notoriety and generate income on the back of collective and individual failure, using attention-grabbing rants and videos to build relevance.

So, rather than being a genuine forum for passionate fans, the argument persists that supporter channels are little more than vehicles for opportunists to make money and vent more general frustrations and jealousies on unsuspecting footballers.

Do Supporter Channels Really Impact on Player Performance?

 Bellerin also pointed out that ArsenalFan TV did not affect him or his teammates, and that they were only interested in the opinion of their coaches, peers and manager. While some may have the mental fortitude and maturity to shut out abuse and listen intently to well-intentioned advice, however, it is a sweeping and inaccurate generalisation to suggest that the same can be said for every professional player.

If you want proof of this, cast your mind back to former Gunners’ right back Emmanuel Eboué. Now faced with bankruptcy, the former player buckled under the weight of fan abuse during his time at the Emirates, with one game against Wigan Athletic particularly memorable. Having been brought on as a 32nd minute replacement for the injured Samir Nasri, Eboue was jeered and abused from the outset until his spirit was finally broken.

When he himself was substituted towards the end of the game (which the Gunners actually won), he was left in tears while the fans celebrated and jeered him from the pitch.

Now, while this shameful abuse was delivered in person and not through a fan channel, it shows how players can be affected by sustained criticism and the impact that this can have on their performance and stress levels. If anything, the focused nature of supporter channels allows for individuals to be targeted more aggressively, with every hurtful comment amplified and shared prolifically across social media.

Ultimately, this is why supporter channels can actually prove counterproductive for teams when they are struggling. Although Gunners fans may feel hard done by and entitled to vent their frustrations, perennially criticising and attacking players can leave them demotivated and bereft of confidence and diminish their performance going forward.

There’s no way of stopping such channels, of course, and fans will always be entitled to voice opinions on their team.

They perhaps have a duty to moderate their vitriol slightly, however, and remember that the vast majority of players are hard-working individuals who want to give their best for the side.

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