Premier League TV Rights: Is Sky Sports’ Continued Dominance Ruining the Game?

Since Sky Sports purchased the rights to the Premier League in 1992 the football world has been turned upside-down. In 2013-14 domestic Premier League TV Rights were worth £1 billion a year. The popularity of regularly televised games every weekend has spread to all four corners of the globe, leading to eye-watering deals being secured between leagues and television giants.

The Good

TV packages are being sold to the highest bidder on contracts that rise year-after-year. The 2018 deals are still being negotiated with Sky and BT bartering. The 2015 package deal saw the Premier League sell its TV rights for £5.136bn, a 71% increase from the last sale, just 3 years earlier.

The figures are astronomical and show no signs of slowing down, but what does it mean?

Whilst Sky’s dominance of sports television has been ever-present since the 90s, the monetary repercussions are only now taking effect. The capital given to Premier League teams has spiked transfer fees and wages whilst levelling the field for newly promoted teams.

  • Bournemouth finished 9th in their second ever Premier League season in 2016-17
  • Burnley look set to cruise into the Europa League in just their second season back in the top flight.
  • Watford are set for their 4th consecutive campaign without ever being in a relegation scrap.

All 3 promoted teams look set to escape relegation this season, which hasn’t happened since 1997-98.

This is just one example of an average Premier League team’s spending in recent years. A direct result of the wealth resulting from Television deals.

These achievements are a result of the equal division of television rights in the UK, something that isn’t replicated in other leagues. In Spain, for example, Barcelona and Real Madrid’s domination is assisted by television deals. The money doesn’t cycle down the league as it does in England and the Premier League is crowned the richest because of it.

The most recent deal in Spain was signed in 2016 for £1.8bn, a £4.7bn difference to the deal in England a year before.

This summer many stories were reported of European clubs demanding higher fees from English teams because they knew they had the resources available. The market is well and truly inflated and football’s relationship with television is the key contributing factor.

In July 2017, Neymar became the first player worth over €200m, just 12 months after Paul Pogba broke the €100m barrier.

The Bad

When analysing the effect TV deals have on clubs it’s largely positive. The inflated market is a bubble that may eventually burst but it makes for more exciting deals and a more competitive Premier League. Despite this, the gruelling TV schedules don’t seem to consider the fans.

Sky and BT bosses select games at their will, causing changes to all fan’s calendars. The recent announcement of Saturday night games has been met with much frustration due to the late nights and awkward travel times. Bournemouth’s trip to Huddersfield was re-arranged for Sunday lunchtime in order to play in front of the Sky Sports cameras. Bournemouth coaches picked fans up at 1:45am to accommodate determined followers.

In 2015, Leeds owner Massimo Cellino threatened to ban Sky Sports cameras from entering Elland Road as the TV giants prepared to record the 9th Leeds game of the 14/15 season.

“It is clear to the club that its key supporters, the Season Ticket holders, have also had enough of this constant alteration, often at short notice, to the fixture list to accommodate Sky.”
Official Club Statement

Fans, and Leeds executives alike, were disgusted by the awkward re-arrangements causing low attendances and therefore reduced match day income.

The Ugly

Despite the wealth that Premier League clubs inherit from Sky and BT cameras, ticket prices are rising in tandem. Football fans continue to be priced out of match day tickets.

Tottenham Hotspurs’ 2018/19 pricing structure has been heavily criticised causing loyal fans to think twice about renewing their season ticket, despite the prospect of a glamorous new stadium.

A reaction to increased ticket pricing is in the popularity of illegal streaming. With Sky Sports subscriptions and ticket prices increasing, fans have turned to illegal servers that host foreign links to almost any game in the world.

In 2016, the BBC reported that popular streaming sites were attracting 8 million visits a month. At the start of 2017/18 season the Premier League announced a ‘crackdown’ on illegal streaming after obtaining an order from the High Court. It gave TV companies the tools necessary to block hosts of streaming servers to tackle the rising number of illegal audiences. But what’s the punishment?

Protecting these broadcasts is important to the “future health of English Football” according to the Premier League. In October last year, Yusuf Mohammed was fined £16,000 for illegally streaming Sky Sports Live.

The Future

The popularity of illegal streaming has caused a drop in Sky Sports’ live channels for the first time in 7 years last season. The Broadcasters Audience Research Board (Barb) revealed a 6% decline.

Current negotiations are in place over the division of Premier League rights for the seasons 2019-2022. The league selects 200 games and splits them into 7 packages. Monopoly law states that the maximum a company can purchase is 5 bundles. Sky have purchased 4 whilst BT Sport have bought just 1 so far – leaving 2 remaining packages up for grabs. Could we see a new football broadcaster?

Well, you may be able to watch a game before flicking over to your favourite boxset with tech giants Netflix, Amazon and YouTube rumoured to be interested. Whilst it could be a risk for these giant corporations, it could completely change the game.

Television’s relationship with football has changed immensely in recent years. Whilst it brings the beautiful game to living rooms across the globe, it’s clear there are many negatives.

Television should be a by-product of football, a tool used to broadcast the action. Instead, schedules are taking priority over anything else, that is where the issue lays.

Without fans, football is nothing.

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