The 2019/20 season sees a third powerhouse, Amazon, enter the exclusive (and very expensive) club of official Premier League broadcasters, which already contains Sky and BT Sport.
This rivalry was initially seen as a positive step that would benefit the customer and help prevent a Murdoch monopoly by driving down consumer prices, but why has the opposite happened and why are actual fans always an afterthought?
The answer to most of these bewilderments is, of course, money.
Greed overriding fan experience
The Premier League has always cleverly positioned itself in the marketplace as the league to watch regardless of average quality, and its truly global appeal is a marketing triumph, it has to be said. It is this globalisation which brings in the multi-billion windfall that of course only the Premier League benefits from – forget the trickle-down into grassroots.
It’s no surprise that elite clubs from Europe’s Top Five leagues want a slice of that action, and this nauseating idea of a European Elite League has been proposed with only Euro symbols in their eyes. No other leagues command the demand England’s top flight does and it’s making other elite clubs jealous.
So with the Premier Leagues coffers swelling so much, their motivation to adjust the broadcasting format is unsurprisingly non-existent. It’s an entire herd of cash cows with dripping udders of the creamiest gold top milk.
Great for them, but no prizes for guessing who suffers.
That the Premier League is a separate organisation to the Football Association means it is subject to far less scrutiny and is running amok, with lower league, non-leagues and grassroots suffering the most.
Football fans already have to endure insane ticket prices. A UEFA report which came out last year shows average gate receipt per fan in England is a whopping £44.50 compared to Spain (£31.40), Germany (£29.10) and Italy (£19.60).
But now, fans are being asked to fork out for three TV subscriptions for Sky Sports, BT Sport and Amazon Prime Video.
Sky-owned Now TV at least offers a more progressive streaming option for those who have become completely disillusioned with the ever-increasing prices and ditched their Sky box (I include myself in that category). But even their prices are extortionate.
Sky Sports’ regular packages do nothing but exploit its own customer-base and many are almost too apathetic to go through the effort of cancelling, or at least threatening to do so to get a slightly improved monthly price.
BT Sport has been Sky’s closest rival, but their rights packages still pale in comparison. It’s yet another subscription to consider in an age of austerity and it’s just not financially-viable to the average fan.
I’m lucky enough to already own an Amazon Prime account so those two rounds of fixtures in December are a bonus. But I can’t imagine many will sign up just for that month.
Again, if two separate subscriptions aren’t viable, three is nothing short of outrageous. A Sky monopoly would genuinely be better for fans as it stands, which is quite frankly a ridiculous scenario.
A once-working class sport now comes with an elite price tag.
So, what’s the solution?
My radical idea would be for the Premier League to create a centralised subscription model which may have a selection of tiered options (full access down to restricted number of live games per month etc.).
Yes, you would still have to visit the corresponding broadcasting platform to watch particular games depending on the packages sold to them, but your universal log-in ensures one single monthly subscription and no monopolies on delivery.
Of course, this would never actually be considered, for the same reasons I keep reiterating – money.
Broadcasters pay so much now for rights, because in many cases it forces a subscription commitment of 12 months to unlock access, and much like the gym industry, it will rely on people simply not finding the motivation to call up and cancel.
But a solution like this is the only way you can even begin to be fair to the fans who make this all possible, and ensure that global demand is high.
The huge illegal elephant in the room here is of course unlicensed streams which still dominate forums and social media on matchdays. It’s no secret that the Premier League spend lots of time and money outlawing and shutting these streams down, rather than actually questioning why they exist in the first place.
Illegal streaming is borne out of a very deliberate decision by the Premier League to spit in the faces of the fans on the doorstep of the stadia hosting these often over-hyped fixtures.
If you live in America, for example, you can watch any 3pm kick-off in the Premier League as part of a standard subscription package. In England meanwhile, the blanket blackout for broadcasting these fixtures prevents an armchair fan five miles down the road the same privileges as a family in Colorado. Why??
If the Premier League want to protect the sacred tradition of no televised 3pm kick-offs on a Saturday, then do so without the hypocrisy of selling out those very values abroad for an extra pallet of gold bullion.
The argument which suggests televising 3pm kick-offs would affect stadium capacity is also weak at best.
The experience is as different as streaming an album versus going to see that band play in a live arena tour. If anything, those who spend money to go and see football in person are probably more likely to have a subscription to Sky or BT Sport anyway.
It’s absolutely unacceptable and pure greed, and they absolutely deserve to have fans sharing streaming links and costing them their precious pennies.
After all, England’s supposedly elite league has driven the average fan down this very path themselves.
The pressures of adjusting broadcasting times to suit foreign fans also screws over the travelling fan (often Geordies, if I’m honest), especially with long distance weekday evening games, and fixtures changing for TV only days before a game (yep, Geordies again). A cap on away ticket prices still doesn’t exist either meaning many clubs overcharge visiting fans without league intervention.
It’s about as regulated as the Wild West.
We saw the shakeup in the music industry with the likes of Napster, Kazaa and Limewire, and also Radiohead’s ‘pay-what-you-like model’ back in 2007 as fingers up to a greedy, bloated industry squeezing every last penny from its gullible customers.
The same needs to happen for the Premier League and its broadcasting model which serves nobody but the suits who spend the majority of the year counting bank notes and polishing their Fabergé eggs.
The bubble will burst at some point, and there will be a complete revolution in how we consume sports, and it is likely to occur through social media and digital platforms.
Amazon’s 2019/20 package offers fans all ten fixtures from two gameweeks, and this live streaming deal is probably closer to the future of sports broadcasting than many realise.
But for now, it’s time to consider the average consumer. It’s time to make supporting football more affordable.
It’s time for the greed of the Premier League to end.
Adam Widdrington – @AddingRandomWit