It is a tedious cliché that Finnish football is small-time and insignificant, but it is unfortunately also kinda true. Precarious finances and a disinterested public make the professional game here seem lower profile than, say, crown green bowls in the UK, or cricket in the United States.
That is a little stark. There is coverage of football and many people do care deeply about the sport, but sometimes commercial and broadcasting priorities give the game away.
This week is one of those times. Last Thursday HJK beat Schalke, semi-finalists in last season’s Champions League, giving them a real chance of making the Europa League group stages. Teemu Pukki scored two fine goals, increasing the price at which he is expected to be sold later in the year. The media has been full of HJK stories, the team swept RoPS aside on Sunday, and all should be well with the world.
That’s not how things are panning out, though. The second leg, which could well turn out to be a Finnish football team’s greatest ever achievement, was on Monday afternoon not guaranteed to be shown on Finnish television*. Neither Canal+ nor MTV3, a subscription network and free-to-air commercial broadcaster respectively, who share the rights to the rest of the competition, are interested in bidding.
All is not lost, however, as YLE, the state broadcaster (full disclosure: I work for them) are interested in showing the game. Other companies might be too, but not the logical choice – the wealthiest commercial broadcasters that are already committed to screening the rest of the competition.
That bears repeating: commercial broadcasters in Finland don’t think it’s worth trying to show a Finnish team in the tournament to which they already own most of the rights. That the game will effectively be a two-hour advert for Canal+ (‘you can only see HJK’s next Europa League match if you pay Canal+ 30eur a month!’) makes this situation even more bizarre.
Finnish businesses seem to agree with the TV companies’ assessment. No company has met HJK’s price to put a logo on their European kit, and so they are playing without a shirt sponsor. I’d like to think this was in protest at the over-commercialisation of modern football, but it’s not.
In Veikkausliiga there are sponsors’ logos covering every available space on HJK’s kit, so we can safely rule out an anti-capitalist revolt led by HJK owner and publishing magnate Olli-Pekka Lyytikainen. Companies just don’t value football enough.
Things might well change, but right now the Finnish football media and public are slightly distracted by issues unrelated to HJK’s phenomenal achievements, and I would really rather like it if they weren’t.
* The game WILL now be shown on YLE TV2, starting at 21:00.