The battle for football's TV future after the coronavirus pandemic

The battle for football on TV: Premier League clubs could be forced to hand back £330m to broadcasters… but with coronavirus potentially DECIMATING upcoming deals, Amazon lurking and an overseas ‘Netflix’ on the table, the sport’s future is up for grabs

  • Premier League clubs are meeting to discuss issues including broadcast deals 
  • Clubs like Liverpool are against teams having to give back around £330m
  • Free-to-air games and no 3pm blackout are options on the table for this season
  • However the effect of coronavirus could have a longer-term impact on football 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Premier League sides are meeting today to discuss a potential TV rebate of more than £330million.

Clubs like Liverpool and Tottenham have been the most vocal in fighting against the refund, which is due because of missed contractual deadlines when the league was cancelled in March, as well as the argument that the likes of Sky will be broadcasting a lesser product without fans present. But the battle for TV’s future extends well beyond whether clubs will reluctantly hand back the cash. 

There is no doubt about it: coronavirus has changed the world we live in, and football is certainly not immune to the financial effects.

Premier League clubs are meeting on Thursday to discuss issues such as a broadcast rebate

When the Premier League does return, while the game itself will remain essentially the same, plenty surrounding it will look dramatically different.

Of course, there will be no fans in the stadium initially and most watching the game will be tuning in from the comfort of their sofas… but to which broadcaster?

There are so many questions to be answered, from who will show games to the amount of cash they’ll shell out to do so in the years to come.

The Premier League is well-known for being awash with money, from transfer fees to wages to mega-money TV deals… but could coronavirus change all that?

As of yet, it is unclear exactly who will show all of the remaining matches of the current campaign, should it resume in mid-June as expected.

While Sky and BT Sport hold the rights to a certain amount of games this season – 128 for the former and 52 for the latter – the behind-closed-doors nature of the fixtures means it is likely there will be a large number of games still to be given to broadcasters.

Clubs such as Liverpool have been vocal against giving back money to the likes of Sky and BT

While Amazon have shown two rounds of fixtures already this season and would likely be in the market for more, there is also talk of terrestrial broadcasters like the BBC getting in on the act.

As things stand, BT and Sky have the rights to 47 remaining matches, while the other 45 are set to be shared around. Sky want to broadcast 32 of them, BT Sport are keen on a further eight, while the remaining five could be split between Amazon and the BBC.

They will, of course, look significantly different to before. With no spectators in the stadium, there is talk of crowd noise being made available on the red button.

This week, viewers watching the Bundesliga highlights on BT Sport were given a taste of the canned cheering, to a mixed reaction. In Germany itself, fake crowd noise has become a staple of behind-closed-doors viewing. 

Some Premier League games could also be shown on YouTube, with reports stating that Sky and BT are considering offering up some of their matches for free online.     

Bundesliga fans in Germany are already watching matches on TV with canned crowd noise

But regardless of how it is broadcast, one thing is for sure. When the door is opened to an institution like the BBC, or to fans on YouTube for free, who knows what the future landscape will look like?

What’s to say the Beeb won’t make a play for more fixtures in the coming years, and if there is enough clamour for more YouTube football, then that too could become a possibility.   

After all, with coronavirus decimating football’s finances, it is unlikely top-flight chiefs will be able to demand as hefty a fee as they have done previously. 

Back in 2018, Sky and BT paid a mammoth £4.464billion for the rights to five main packages of matches from 2019-2022, while the overseas rights deals takes the Premier League’s TV earnings to around the £9bn mark.

It was reported by the Telegraph that the overseas broadcasting rights for 2019-2022, the same period as detailed above, had risen 35 per cent to £4.35bn.

How to watch football for the rest of the season is undecided, with all games to be broadcast

That means that 46 per cent of all the league’s broadcasting revenue now comes from overseas, and until the coronavirus pandemic that was only set to rise. These are eyewatering sums that may well have touched the ceiling of football finances.   

We won’t have to wait long to find out if that is the case, with the next TV rights packages up for grabs later on this year. Negotiations will likely be long and complicated, but it would not be a surprise to see the figure coming in significantly lower in the post-coronavirus world. 

Sky and BT will almost certainly argue that they have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with scores of lost subscribers due to the lack of live coverage on their various channels.

While many paused their sport packages, some went the whole nine yards and completely cut ties with the broadcasters… and they will now have to fight hard to get them back when games do eventually return to our screens.

David Kogan is a man who knows more than most when it comes to TV rights, having occupied the role of the Premier League’s chief media rights advisor from 1998 to 2015, a period where they became the biggest and best league in the world.

Games will be on Sky and BT per the existing deal, but the likes of the BBC could show games 

Speaking to the Guardian, he questioned whether the Premier League would ever be able to get back to the same level they were operating at earlier in the season. 

‘What is the Premier League’s capacity to earn another £9bn-£10bn over a three-year period?’ he said. ‘First of all, there’s the UK broadcasters: why would Sky, now owned by Comcast, or BT, necessarily want to spend £5bn on these rights when there’s very little competition? 

‘Secondly, there’s 200 other overseas broadcasters. If they’ve been affected by the pandemic, which they will have been, why are they going to go on bidding 20 per cent more they’ve been doing up until now?

‘If the Premier League isn’t going to bring in that money, where is the flexibility to find new cash? Ticket sales? Clubs are already costing their fans a fortune. Hospitality? It’s already been priced to the max. So the only way that clubs can then survive is by looking at costs. And the massive costs are agents’ fees and players, and at that point you’re affecting the product.’

Amazon broadcast 20 games this season and are said to be keen on showing more in the future

The Premier League released information on exactly how much TV money was paid to clubs


– 50 per cent of TV revenue is equally shared among clubs

– 25 per cent is shared based on how often a club’s matches are broadcast in the UK (known as ‘Facility Fees)

– 25 per cent is shared based on where a club finish in the league table (known as ‘Merit Payments’)

– Central commercial revenue is equally shared by clubs

– International broadcast revenues are equally shared by clubs

So TV finances looks set to affect the entirety of the game. It will affect how much players get paid and how much fans pay to get into the ground.

Plenty of top-flight clubs are heavily over-reliant on TV money to survive, with the likes of Bournemouth needing broadcasters’ money to stay afloat in the top tier. In fact, 88 per cent of the Cherries’ revenue is from TV money alone.

Figures released at the end of the 2018-19 season showed that payments to clubs from the Premier League totalled an incredible £2.456bn in just a single campaign.

For Bournemouth, that was over £108m incoming, with £43m of that courtesy of international broadcasters. 

Perhaps understandably, then, there are significant fears across the top flight over the future of televised football.

Broadcasters argue that that the ‘behind closed doors’ product isn’t what they purchased


– Clubs shared £2.45billion in TV money in 2018/19

– All 20 clubs received around £34m as part of an ‘equal share’ from TV money

– They also received £43m each from overseas rights and £4.9m for central commercial deals

– Clubs are then handed cash based on how many times they are on TV; Liverpool pocketed £33m for appearing 29 times, while rock-bottom Huddersfield got just shy of £2m

In the international market, there has been talk of a Netflix-style subscription service by those at the very top of the food chain.

New Premier League chief executive Richard Masters broached the subject earlier this year, admitting that the top flight had considered launching its own digital service in some territories during the last bidding process for 2019-2022.

He also confirmed that a similar option is on the table for the 2022-2025 seasons, which would allow the league to charge directly for a ‘Premflix’ channel rather than selling individual rights to TV companies. 

One other ticking time bomb ready to blast the doors off the future of televised football is that of the 3pm blackout.

They argue that the lack of fans will lessen the product so some cash should be refunded

For years, a staple of football on TV has been no live action between 3pm and 5pm on a Saturday. For the integrity of the game, to ensure fans still attended matches in their droves, there was a blanket ban.

But with no fans allowed to attend, there is a growing likelihood that the blackout will be lifted, at least for this season.

The 3pm Saturday slot will be needed for fixtures, and with every game set to be televised there will have to be a compromise.

That then leads to the question of next season… and Kogan believes new ideas will have to be considered.

‘Saturday 3pm has been the holy grail of football rights selling for 50 years – [showing games now] might set a precedent,’ he said. ‘Whatever the history used to be, money is a huge incentive for change and it’s not just the PL [that’s] going to lose money because of the pandemic, the FA will, too. I wouldn’t count it out at all.’ 

Clubs have approved contact training and the league could return to action in mid-to-late June

And so, it is clear that televised football may never be the same again. Until now, it has been relatively simple. For live Premier League football, you go to Sky or BT, with Amazon muddying the waters very slightly for two rounds of games this season.

Coronavirus has now opened the floodgates. While Amazon jockeys for position and prepares to continue its foray into top-flight football, the BBC, YouTube and Facebook wait in the wings.

Saturday 3pm games are no longer off the table, and broadcasters are pushing for greater access to the action. The Premier League have raised the suggestion of cameras inside the dressing rooms and half-time interviews.

There is a clamour for more… more access, more games, more ways to watch. 

But will there be more money in this post-coronavirus landscape? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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