Unravelling the TV conundrum of Premier League's return
Unravelling the TV conundrum of football’s return: Premier League games may be aired for FREE to leave Sky and BT fuming… with major rights holders not even happy with games behind closed doors – and that would give clubs a £762m problem
- Premier League is considering airing behind-closed-doors games on free-to-air
- Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has held ‘productive talks’ over restart of sport
- Games could be shown on BBC, ITV or even streamed for free on YouTube
- Sky and BT Sport have already shelled out huge sums for exclusivity
The words ‘Premier League’ and ‘free’ do not crop up in the same sentence too often.
But these are strange times indeed, and the league is currently considering making some behind-closed-doors fixtures available on free-to-air television when the season restarts.
That is according to the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, who revealed on Wednesday afternoon he has held ‘productive talks’ with governing bodies regarding the restart of professional sport.
Here, Sportsmail assesses the situation and the likelihood of Premier League football making it on to your screens at home – for free.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden proposed Premier League games being shown on free TV
The Premier League season is currently on suspension amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis
What exactly did Dowden say?
With sport in England expected to be held behind closed doors initially, Dowden told the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee: ‘I have said to the Premier League it wouldn’t send the best signal if they were one of the first major sports to resume behind closed doors and the public at large couldn’t have access to it.’
The Premier League is currently considering his proposal.
Whether that means shown for free on BBC and ITV or even via YouTube, like we have seen happen with recent Champions League finals, remains to be seen.
But what about Sky Sports and BT Sport?
Precisely. The desire to complete the 2019-20 season is partly down to the fairness of competition, but it is also because they are bound by TV contracts.
Sky Sports and BT Sport both shell out huge sums for exclusivity to England’s elite league.
League leaders Liverpool have been left in limbo as they seek to secure a first title since 1990
In the Premier League’s presentation to clubs regarding wage deferrals earlier this month, division bosses projected total losses of £1.137 billion if this season were to be abandoned.
Of that, £762m would be needed to repay broadcasters if their contracts were not fulfilled.
That sent shivers down the spines of club executives, as you can imagine.
Premier League matches could be shown on terrestrial TV if or when the season returns
Sky and BT wouldn’t be pleased then…
Don’t count on it. The Premier League is their prized possession. In its absence, BT has even been reduced to showing hot dog eating contests on their channels.
Insiders say broadcasters would not even be pleased with showing matches behind closed doors – because that is not the product they paid so much money for.
Plus, if games were available to watch for free, would that not prevent Sky and BT from lifting their suspension on subscriptions? Would you un-pause your payments?
One broadcast insider, speaking to Sportsmail on Thursday morning, said: ‘Sky and BT will want their money’s worth, or they will want their money back. Simple as that.’
Sky Sports and BT Sport have already shelled out huge sums for exclusive broadcasting rights
Premier League clubs might have to pay out £762m on TV costs if the season is cancelled
What about Amazon Prime, too?
Amazon also agreed to pay £90m to show 20 matches a season online for three years.
They streamed one round of matches in early December, then another round on Boxing Day, long before the league’s suspension was confirmed on March 13 because of coronavirus.
But regardless of that, they might have something to say if the Premier League temporarily became a free-to-air product, after paying so much for exclusivity, too.
Are the Government assessing that?
Dowden acknowledged that sports, including football and especially the Premier League, were ‘reliant on the revenue they derive’ from their broadcast partners.
But he added it is possible to have ‘elements of protecting revenue from broadcasting but also looking at ways of increasing access’.
That would take a masterplan of sorts to keep everyone happy and contracts fulfilled.
Premier League clubs are ‘reliant on the revenue they derive’ from their broadcast partners
It is widely expected that remaining games would take place behind closed doors initially
One other thing…
Premier League clubs remain committed to playing all 92 remaining fixtures this season, and it is widely expected that games will take place behind closed doors initially.
Amid all of this, we have to remember what happened in the early stages of this pandemic.
PSG’s Champions League clash with Borussia Dortmund was held behind closed doors, but thousands still turned up to create an atmosphere outside of the Parc des Princes.
That is something the Government is wary of, ahead of giving the green light to sport’s return.
You would hope supporters would not be so ignorant were those measures to be taken again.
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