‘1+1’ = 2: Did Ukrainian TV deal cost Fulham second-leg home advantage?
Earlier this afternoon the draw for the play-off round for entrance to this year’s Europa League proper took place with Fulham being drawn against Ukrainian side Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, with the second leg scheduled to take place at Craven Cottage.
However, shortly afterwards the announcement came that ‘UEFA [had] reversed the home and away legs,’ with Fulham no longer the beneficiaries of the widely-accepted advantage of having the second-leg at home. Coyly, the London club have offered little further comment, and no explanation is yet to emerge from UEFA, although one assumes an official announcement will cite the move being made either for television reasons or to avoid fixture clashes with other Ukrainian and English teams in the competition.
Interestingly however, it might be of note that Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk are controlled by the Privat Group, an international business group with – for want of a better phrase – many fingers in many pies, and not just Ukrainian ones either (steel, oil, media, food, banking amongst others, across the Ukraine, Russia, the US, Ghana and beyond). It is a far reaching web.
Where this gets interesting however is that the Privat Group is essentially controlled by three men – Henadiy Boholyubov, Oleksiy Martynov, and Ihor Kolomoyskyi, the latter of whom is the most prominent, the wealthiest, and of most interest.
Kolomoyskyi, who just last year was reported to have amassed a personal fortune in excess of $6bn (yes, six billion US dollars!), is reported to now own a significant amount of the Ukrainian television channel 1+1, the free-to-air broadcaster that just yesterday was announced to have been ‘awarded the media rights for the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League.’
The amount of ownership Kolomoyskyi enjoys, and indeed the price he paid, varies according to different sources, with some saying he paid $100m for 49% of channel 1+1, and others reporting a figure of $300m for the entirety of Central European Media Enterprises Ltd.’s stake in the channel.
Regardless, it remains unavoidable the fact that the man who in a roundabout way co-owns Dnipro and 1+1 has recently agreed to pay UEFA a suitably pleasing amount of money for the right to host the television coverage of European football in the Ukraine, and following the draw for the Europa League play-off matches, has seen UEFA reverse the tie between Dnipro and Fulham so that his side will benefit from the advantage of having the second leg at home.
Furthermore, as of yet none of the other English teams in the draw (Tottenham, Birmingham and Stoke) have had their fixture rearranged, with the same applying to the four other Ukrainian sides in the play-offs – Metalist Kharkiv, Vorskla Poltava, Karpaty Lviv, and Dynamo Kyiv.
Although there is such a thing is innocent coincidence, it does not take a rocket scientist to put two and two (or perhaps that should be 1+1) together here – what stance you take is entirely your choice. Officially, at least, it is likely to be declared that the Fulham-Dnipro tie has been reversed ultimately for television purposes, or to avoid fixture congestion (perfectly viable given the fact Tottenham also have their second leg at home), however it would be foolish to completely disregard the political machinations in the background.
Surely it is at least worth bearing in mind…