Premier League urged to use TV cash to help fans hit by broadcasters’ wishes
The Football Supporters’ Federation has asked for more consideration for away fans.
The Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) is calling on the Premier League to use its TV riches to reduce the impact on away fans of games moved for broadcasters and subsidise tickets for young adults.
England’s top flight announced mixed results for its latest auction of domestic live rights on Tuesday, with BT and Sky sharing 160 games a season from 2019-20 but for less money than they paid for the current three-year deal. The league also failed to sell two more packages of 20 games a season.
That said, the league said there are “multiple bidders” for those games when the auction resumes and it has already brought in almost £4.5billion from BT and Sky, with dozens of overseas deals to do later this year.
But the fact the league put up 200 of the season’s 380 games for sale was already a concern for the FSF, as moving fixtures away from the traditional Saturday 3pm slot has a knock-on effects for fans.
In a statement, FSF chief executive Kevin Miles said: “Every occasion a game’s kick-off time is moved, travelling fans are inconvenienced, sometimes having to fork out for overnight hotel stays or book additional days off work as public transport options don’t always exist.
“Premier League clubs must remember how crucial the away supporter is to the atmosphere at games – it’s a vital part of the spectacle which sells for billions around the globe.”
Miles acknowledged the league had listened to fans’ groups on capping ticket prices for away supporters but said it should go further.
“We would also like to see clubs introduce measures to reduce the impact of televised games on away fans, in particular, (and) introduce concessions for 18 to 22-year-olds to ensure young adults are not priced out of games,” he said.
On what the new deals mean for the league and football industry in general, expert opinion was divided.
Deloitte Sports Business Group director Austin Houlihan gave an upbeat assessment in a statement which said the deals “reconfirm the Premier League’s position as the world’s most popular league in the world’s most popular sport”.
Houlihan noted the current rights are worth £1billion more a season than they were five years ago, the Premier League’s numbers were better than their European rivals and the league still had 40 games a season to sell.
Simon Leaf, a rights expert with British law firm Mishcon de Reya, was more circumspect, though.
In a statement, Leaf said the league and “all those relying” on the money generated by TV rights “will be concerned we have seen a decline in the amount in the context of rising inflation” but added this is “by no means a terrible situation”.
He explained that the picture could be different if Amazon, Facebook or another tech giant makes it a three-way fight next time, and said the overseas market “will likely more than make up for any domestic shortfall”.
Leaf did, however, raise the twin concerns of falling average viewing figures and the rise of esports among millennials.
And Richard Amos, chief technical officer with content delivery firm Ostmomdern, sounded a note of caution on the subject of how soon the big tech firms would be ready to enter the live rights market.
In a statement, Amos said: “Despite months of speculation on whether companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon would muscle their way in and win a number of packages, the internet giants remain in their infancy when it comes to penetrating the broad ecosystem that sports fans exist within.
“Sports broadcasting is all about building a story by fostering continual engagement with fans, whether it’s through social media, fantasy football leagues, alternative commentary or team interviews, and tying this together to build a narrative.
“This is something the internet giants, who are competing to be a single destination for consumers, cannot easily provide with their current business models and sports platforms are aware of this limitation.”
Former Liverpool and Premier League chief executive Rick Parry has a simpler take on what has happened, though, telling BBC Radio 5 Live this is just “a little correction in the marketplace”.
For Parry, the “abnormal deal” was the current one, agreed in 2015, when the battle between BT and Sky was at its fiercest, driving up the cost of live football by 70 per cent.
“We’ve seen new deals announced recently in Germany and Italy and we’re still 65 per cent ahead of them so I think the Premier League is still in pretty rude health,” he added.