Last week saw the Premier League announce that they were opening the bidding process for the broadcasting rights running from the 2016/17 to the 2018/19 season. These broadcasting rights are one of the league’s most valuable possessions due to their value and potential to drive up revenue considerably. The battle between both Sky and BT is a significant factor in the increasing costs of the rights. The last time the bidding process was open the two companies spent a cumulative £3billion on the rights while a further £2billion came from overseas television networks. As the desire for Premier League matches only increases it is widely expected that the money spent on rights will be even more.
There will be 168 live matches available each season in the UK which is an increase from previous seasons where 154 matches were shown. The 168 matches are then broken down into seven packages which can be bid on by television networks in the UK. Five of these packages hold the rights to 28 games while the final two hold the rights to 14 games. In the interests of preventing a complete monopoly of these rights the Premier League stipulates that no one buyer can acquire any more than 126 games to show live. This naturally fuels competition and helps in increasing the total amount paid for the rights.
Within the rights offering is the opportunity to broadcast ten games on a Friday evening. The rights to show a Friday evening kick-off will come part of the same package that contains the rights to show games that kick off on a Monday evening. The decision to allow broadcasters to show Friday evening games has caused considerable controversy amongst supporters. This issue will be considered in more detail later.
The 3pm blackout on a Saturday remains. No Premier League live games can be shown in the UK at this time as it is designed to facilitate participation in football, increase attendances at grounds and maintain tradition in the game. It is worth noting that this blackout is not applicable to overseas broadcasters who are fully entitled to broadcast games kicking off at 3pm on a Saturday to the territory they are from.
It is important to note that the Premier League differentiates between the live packages discussed above and the highlights package. The highlights package is sold separately and is designed to be free-to-air. In other words it is now allowed to be broadcast on services that require a subscription from customers. The highlights package is currently owned by the BBC however it has in the past been owned by ITV. If media reports are to believed then it looks set to be a bidding war between both ITV and the BBC for the highlights package.
The concept of Friday night football is an enticing one for broadcasters. The marketing opportunities that could come from it are likely to ample. Sky has had considerable success with its’ ‘Monday Night Football’ programme which features Ed Chamberlain, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher and it would likely look to market any Friday night football in a similar fashion.
The inclusion of games on a Friday evening has not however sat well with all footballing parties. Supporters have voiced their disappointment at the increase of the amount of games that are moved away from the traditional kick-off time of 3pm on a Saturday. The Football Supporters’ Federation has highlighted that the inclusion of Friday evening games on television would have a “detrimental impact on match atmosphere and interests of supporters“.
Arguably it is perhaps this traditionalist view that is holding back to the Premier League. The Bundesliga in Germany is perhaps one of the best governed leagues in the world. 17 of the 18 clubs in the Bundesliga are completely debt free which is a stark contrast to the amount of debt in the Premier League where 17 clubs were considered to be in the red. Attendances on averages in the league last season were 42,125 which were higher than the Premier League’s 36,657. This is all while every single Bundesliga game is shown on German television.
It would certainly be unfair to say that the Bundesliga’s success solely comes down to showing every game on television, there is far more to it than that, but the arguments of tradition when discussing whether games should be moved from 3pm on a Saturday is a little redundant and backward. There is no denying that tradition is important in football and it definitely has a place, it is what makes the game so well loved, but when we look into Europe and see that there is little in the way of evidence to demonstrate any kind of detrimental impact on match atmosphere then it is perhaps time to drop that argument.