Bewildering, confusing, excessive, mystifying, – just a few words to sum up the news that the rights to broadcast Premier League matches on TV have been auctioned off for a record £5.136 billion. Just as Chelsea and Manchester City have done, Britain’s biggest broadcasters have asserted their dominance through their financial firepower.
Sky TV paid £4.2 billion for the right to broadcast 126 matches per seasons between 2016-2019, marking an 83% rise in the price they paid last year. However, it includes the first ever Friday evening broadcast slot. Competitor BT picked up the remaining packages; they will be able to show another 42 matches, at a cost of £320 million per season. In total, the figure represents a 70% increase on Sky and BT’s current £3 billion deal. Take a moment to let these figures sink in.
I suppose a positive out of all this is that the Premier League have set aside £56 million a year to be invested into grassroots projects, including the construction of 50 artificial pitches. Given how poorly our boys performed in Brazil last year, it’s clear the way football is taught around the country needs changing. There is also hope that the effects of this deal will trickle down to the public, triggering adjustments to ticket pricing strategies. Currently, the average price of the cheapest tickets to see the likes of Sturridge, Silva and Sakho have risen at twice the rate of the cost of living since 2011. To paraphrase the great Bill Shankly, football, for many, is more important than life and death, and that needs to be recognised.
Media watchdog, Ofcom, is monitoring the way in which rights to games are being sold. It comes as no surprise that the English Premier League is the worst value for money in Europe. At the most recent auction, the right to show 168 games were sold – but there are 380 games a season. A Saturday blackout, introduced in 1992 to protect crowd attendances, has meant that just 40% of Premier League games are shown live across the UK. Whereas in Europe, 100% of the matches are broadcasted live for as little as £10 a month, sport packages in the UK cost £30-50 more with less games on offer. Access to live matches would be ideal, not least because we could avoid listening to Kevin Kilbane and Robbie Savage on Match of the Day to catch highlights of each game; a penny for your thoughts.
Ofcom has agreed to launch an investigation which could herald a sea of change whereby costs fall and matches under the Saturday blacklist be put up for auction. The purpose of the investigation is to examine whether or not the way the games are being sold are in breach of UK and EU competition law.
Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore justifies the high prices because football presents ‘unscripted drama’ – so does a stand up comedy gig, but who forks out hundreds of pounds a month to watch Live at the Apollo? Clubs need to strike a fine balance with ticket prices because supporters are the bedrock of a club. Take them out of the picture, and you’ll be left with no fans and no ground, just as the Wealdstone Raider envisages. Uh oh.
It mustn’t be forgotten that TV broadcasters have made the game more accessible to fans as well as providing revenue to clubs, to the extent that lowly Burnley have a higher financial standing than the likes of AFC Ajax. Nevertheless, regulators must ensure that high prices don’t isolate youngsters and make the game inaccessible; football is not an elitist sport.
By Kamran Khan