• Marc Luther Thomas

Premier League on Pay-Per-View: Missing the target, or a consolation for fans?

The Premier League recently announced that all matches not already included in the television broadcast schedule will be available on Sky Sports and BT Sport on a pay-per-view basis, with games priced at £14.95 each.

The Premier League sees the move as an interim solution, with fans still unable to attend matches. Since the restart of domestic football towards the end of last season, extra matches had been allocated for TV broadcast, some of which free-to-air for the first time in the competition’s history. However, it is reported the Premier League had become frustrated with giving away more of its product for free.

The temporary pay-per-view model has incensed a large number of football fans across the country, who already have to part with a lot of money to watch football on TV across subscriptions for Sky Sports, BT Sport and Amazon Prime Video. There are concerns that this will only compound the struggles the Premier League have had with the illegal streaming of matches, with many fans saying they will be cancelling their subscriptions.

The Premier League have had their hands tied to an extent on the issue of pricing. Supporters of EFL teams are able to watch matches on a similar basis, with matches priced at £10 each for these clubs, warranting an increased price for top tier football.

However, match-going supporters are equally as miffed. One of the key drivers behind this change is to enable supporters who would normally attend the matches to watch their teams play. Fans of EFL clubs with valid season tickets will be able to watch matches, which they would normally have been watching in the ground, for free online while they continue to be played behind closed doors. This is not applicable in the instance of Premier League matches, however, meaning that season ticket holders will have to pay £14.95 per game on top of the money they have already forked out for the season.

Fans will only have to pay this for matches that are not already in the broadcasting schedule, meaning that they don’t have to part with any more money than they want to. They are actually getting extra – they will have access to more televised matches than they would have in the past (if they are willing to spend the money, of course).

So why has there been so much uproar?

The issue is largely down to optics. We are in the midst of a global pandemic, with no clear end in sight and the long-term financial impact is still unclear. Given the amount of money in football, and the Premier League particularly, an attempt to squeeze an extra money out of supporters each week has been seen as tone-deaf by many. The announcement comes a week after the end of the transfer window, during which more than £1bn was spent by clubs in the top flight, while many fans remain uncertain about their own livelihoods as a result of the pandemic.

There are also concerns around the difference in airtime between clubs. TV schedules tend to favour the biggest matches, and therefore the bigger clubs, meaning that fans of so-called smaller clubs will have to watch more of their games through the pay-per-view option.

This could also be manipulated the other way. TV schedules are announced in blocks periodically over the course of the season, with the current schedule covering matches until the start of November. Some fans have raised concerns that future schedules could result in more of the bigger matches, which would normally attract larger viewing figures, being on pay-per-view in order to make more money out of fans.

What does the future look like?

There have long been calls for clubs in the Premier League to have more control over TV rights and replicate models seen in the US when the current broadcasting deal expires. The likes of NFL and NBA enable fans to watch their team on TV with a season ticket-style subscription, allowing them to pay a set fee to watch their team’s matches throughout the season. The Premier League’s announcement is only likely to amplify this sentiment, as fans continue to feel ever more disenfranchised with the top level of the game.

As I’ve mentioned, the Premier League has long wrestled with the threat of illegal streaming and the current climate is only likely to add to the struggle. Matches are becoming ever-easier to access online, with foreign channels able to televise all matches. While domestic broadcasters continue to have limited pickings of matches each week (in normal times – remember those?), the issue isn’t going away anytime soon. Something needs to be done – but I doubt pay-per-view is the way to go.

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