If there’s one industry (apart from loan-sharking) that’s recession proof, then it’s football and if ever conclusive proof of that fact was needed, then it came yesterday when the Premier League announced that it had sold its TV rights to BSkyB and new boys BT for a whopping £3.018 bn. Just to put that into perspective, the last time the contract was up, it went for just under 1.8 bn, equating to a 70% rise.
The sum has been paid for a three year deal which commences from the 2013 – 2014 season and despite BT boss Ian Livingston claiming he “looks forward to offering fans real value”, the price of watching live Premiership games will almost certainly go up. Sounds like Newspeak to us.
The result of it all is that Premiership clubs will now have a lot more cash in their pocket, meaning that players and agents in turn will have even more money to spend on diamond-encrusted phones, ridiculously large headphones and of course.. high-end prostitutes. There have been suggestions that some clubs might use the pay-out to reduce tickets for matches, but no one’s holding their breath.
So how did this deal go down and what does it mean for John Q Armchair Viewer? Well for a start, anyone who invested in an ESPN package will need to switch providers. Sky will still have rights to 116 matches per season, but with BT laying claim to 38 live games (and crucially, half of the ‘first-pick’ matches) viewers will need to add a BT TV and Broadband subscription – which starts at £30.50 – to their existing Sky deal. But with football fans already being stretched to breaking point by soaring prices all over the game, will this simply lead to an increase in people streaming football matches over the internet?
Thousands of fans in Britain currently watch live football matches over the internet for free and the number of people circumnavigating the system is rising all the time. Over the last couple of years Sky – who built their UK empire off the back of live football – have been vigilante when big matches are on and seek to remove streams as they appear, but as with all forms of internet piracy (a broad term, but technically that’s what it is) those who stream are constantly developing new tactics.
The issue of pubs using foreign channels to broadcast football matches is also rather murky, but with BT and Sky raising their investment, fans can expect to see them try to prevent such things happening with renewed vigour. Sky may be ahead of their competitors when it comes to hiring ‘stream-breakers’ but their new bed-fellows will be keen to catch-up.
Indeed they seem to have more ambition and greater resources than ESPN – who were comfortably outbid this time around* – and could challenge Sky’s dominance in their years to come, something that Murdoch & Co. will fight against fervently. In the short-term, BT will be using the deal to push its high speed broadband service.
One might think that this healthy competition could benefit fans, but with the two firms being allotted separate games (and thus not competing directly against each other for viewers) then the opposite could be true. As Sky and BT spend more cash to get their hands on the best games, they may in turn decide to pass those costs on to viewers. When the prices start to go up, how many fans will make the decision to cancel their subscription and go online?