Interesting times ahead for the Premier League and televised football, particularly on the domestic front, as Sky Sports, the company that has dominated that scene for 25 years, is starting to feel the pinch.
By Dave Bowler
Throughout the game there has been general amazement as the UK TV deals have escalated contract on contract, Sky throwing its money around to destroy competitors, something it has done rather successfully – remember Setanta and On Digital for starters? Exactly.
But over the last few years, a bigger competitor has come in – BTSport, an arm of the mighty British Telecom corporation. They dwarf Sky and appear to have conceived a strategy that’s going to do to Sky what they have done to others, a bit like pulling a shark backwards to drown it.
It’s not about football, it’s about the broadband market. Once Sky, whose business was almost entirely reliant on football, started to dip its toes into broadband, BT were on the alert. Realising that sport, especially football, was both Sky’s USP and its Achilles heel, they went after their markets, taking the Champions League from them, grabbing the FA Cup, slowly suffocating the big player.
Sky responded the way they always have. They wrote the Premier League a bigger cheque, but it turns out, it’s too big. They are getting rid of senior staff all over the place as a consequence, whilst 21st Century Fox is now hovering over them in takeover mode.
But that isn’t the end to the Sky problems because more worrying yet is the fact that football audiences are starting to go through the floor. In part, that’s because they are still asking a premium price for a product that is being undermined by the ease and availability of high quality illegal streams online. Just as the music industry was decimated, so too is football viewing. Why pay when you can get it for nothing?
But there are other things at work here too. The deals that BT have struck for FA Cup and Champions League were brilliantly innovative. On a matchday, you can watch the goals from all the games pretty much as they go in. That’s a switch that overnight made Sky’s flagship Soccer Saturday with famous faces sitting in the studio with headphones on, watching games the viewer can’t see until later that night, look positively Dickensian.
What happens to Sky matters very much to the Premier League because the two have enjoyed a virtuous circle of partnership, the success of one inflating the other. If BT were to break Sky, then think of the next TV deals. Sky desperately, desperately needed football, it was its core business.
BT doesn’t really need it all, especially if there is no direct broadband competitor offering it. Even then, because of the overseas fascination in the Premier League, it will continue to bring in the big money for the foreseeable future from beyond these shores, but the domestic market might become less and less important.
EPL On TV
That then offers up another interesting issue. If the Premier League are more beholden to China, the USA, South Africa, what does that do to supporters on the ground in England. And does Game 39 return to the agenda?
Price aside, Sky’s other big problem is that they have killed the goose that laid the golden eggs. There is simply too much football on television, full stop. Who really wants to watch a game every single night of the week, and then half a dozen over the weekend? The fans of those clubs aside, who really cares about Ipswich v Rotherham? Who wants to set aside their Friday night for that?
Television has dictated fixture dates and times increasingly over the last few years, much to the annoyance of fans, but at least there has been the consolation of being able to watch the game at home or in the pub if you cant get to it. But what if Sky dropped out, if the money from the Middle East or Japan started to be the funds that start to dictate? What if the demands of Tokyo or Shanghai mean it’s better to start to play our games at 10 on a Friday morning for example, a game that wouldn’t be screened in the UK perhaps?
He who pays the piper and all that…
If you’re looking to watch live epl games in the US then check out our daily soccer tv schedule here