It has not been since BT Sport’s first foray into broadcasting the Premier League back in 2013 has a new company attempted to break up the stranglehold that Sky have over domestic football broadcasting. However, announced last year, Amazon have decided to throw their hat into the ring in a move that could have far-reaching consequences for the future of the televised Premier League football.
Put simply, the rights that a company has to show Premier League football in the UK depend on what packages they chose to buy. In the last round of bidding (2019/20 – 2021/22 seasons) there were seven of these packages (A-G) up for grabs, each containing a number of games at certain times. For example, BT Sports purchased package A which contains 32 matches that kick off at 12:30pm on a Saturday. Of these seven, BT Sports obtained two, Sky four, and one went to Amazon.
The package that Amazon bought consists of just 20 matches with all the fixtures from one bank holiday and one midweek fixture program available for them to broadcast in any way they see fit. For the 2019/20 season, the midweek round will be the 3rd and 4th of December, and the bank holiday round will be the 26th and 27th of December.
Given that there was a total of 200 live matches available to buy across all the packages, you’d be easily forgiven for thinking that this is a relatively inauspicious way for Amazon to start making waves in the football broadcasting arena. However, it’s not the amount of games that is significant to this story, but rather the timing of the fixtures.
If you’re an avid Premier League viewer in the UK, you’ll be well aware of the blackout that prevents broadcasters based in this country from legally televising any football matches between 3pm and 5:15pm on a Saturday. This came into force during the 1960s in order to preserve attendances at non-televised games during the growth of football broadcasting in that period. This rule has endured ever since – much to the chagrin of many football fans across the country who regard it as a draconian and largely pointless exercise.
This is where the Amazon deal gets interesting. They will stream a midweek round of fixtures and the games on Boxing Day – which incidentally doesn’t fall on a Saturday this year; there are no broadcasting restrictions on broadcasting. This means that, for the first time ever in the UK, every single match on these days will be available to watch from one provider. So, as well as the standalone fixtures, there will also be a kind of footballing pick ‘n mix with viewers being able to hop between any of the six games occurring simultaneously that will be available to watch across a single platform.
This ambitious approach is very in keeping with the on-demand style of consumption that is dominating modern broadcasting with the meteoric rise of Netflix and Amazon’s very own Prime Video service over recent years being indicative of consumer’s desire for this model. From a purely idealistic standpoint, this is a great opportunity to watch the games you want with none of the added restrictions that have dogged football broadcasting over the last 60 years.
However, we do not live in an ideal world and one of the main criticisms from fans is that this is yet another way to price them out of watching the sport that they’ve dedicated their lives to following. To watch these games, you’ll need an active Amazon Prime subscription that will set you back £79 a year, which, whilst not an exorbitant amount of money in and of itself, must be viewed in the context of the prices for the other existing services. According to the Mirror, if you are not a Sky or BT broadband user, the cost of individual subscriptions to both of these providers will cost around £800 in total for the year.
There are, of course, ways to slightly reduce this by adding one service to your existing package with the other. However, despite this saving, the cost of watching all available Premier League games will still take you to a figure that is north of £600 which, for some, is sure to be an insurmountable financial barrier.
The ubiquity of football and the fervour with which its fans follow it has made it a cornerstone of modern society. This is especially true of the working class for whom it has become interwoven into the very fabric of their existence – an unparalleled unifying factor in a political landscape where blind optimism and hope are in dangerously short-supply. With this importance in mind, it becomes inconceivable that something so deeply ingrained in our culture is becoming increasingly difficult to afford for those who, as melodramatic as it sounds, rely on it as a fundamental constant of life.
This isn’t a new concept. Since the advent of the Premier League in 1992, the cost of watching games from both the stands and the comfort of your sofa has been steadily increasing. However, there’s an argument to be made that there must exist a point of no return where the current broadcasters will push their luck and consumers will finally cancel their subscriptions. Aside from the new dynamic they’re introducing to show the games, Amazon’s entry into the market also feels like a significant moment in this regard. They can surely sense that the proverbial camel’s knees are buckling and, if they’re the first ones to start removing the straws, there’s no reason that they can’t take advantage of this unique opportunity to establish themselves as the next major player in the industry.
Although this may appear like a pipedream, the rise of companies like Spotify and Apple Music have significantly cut music piracy by offering a more convenient way of consumption at an acceptable price point. This is a slightly imperfect comparison and there’s still logistical issues regarding Amazon’s ability to broadcast regular weekend football. However, the financial firepower and reach that comes along with being the world’s most valuable brand means that there has never been a time where its been as plausible for the current regime to be overthrown.
It’s impossible to say for now, but, when the next broadcasting rights packages become available, Amazon may have opened the floodgates for other streaming giants to get in on the act and bring the price down to entice new customers in. If they choose to do so, then the old guard may be stood in the swell like King Canute – trying in vain to halt an unrelenting tide.
by Jake Sandy