The football TV rights saucepan has finally boiled over

21 Feb 2018  |  Raymond Snoddy 
The football TV rights saucepan has finally boiled over

Raymond Snoddy has, after many years, cancelled his Sky Premiership subscription. Will you do the same?

It’s not always easy to embrace the latest marketing catchphrase but “mature radical” has a nice ring to it.

It doesn’t necessarily mean joining the ranks of Comrade Corbyn on the barricades, but one marked characteristic is refusing to acquiesce in the activities of commercial entities who would rip you off in word or deed.

So a mature radical would certainly switch utility operators at the drop of a hat, and on the Remain side of the fence, ban Tim Martin and his Wetherspoon pubs for continuing to put Brexit propaganda on his beer mats.

Mature radicals were at first delighted when Sky extended “choice” by launching five different sports channels so that those who liked footy but not motor sports could at last take their pick and not have to pay for sports genres they never watched.

But then the penny dropped. You chose your single favourite channel only to find out that it cost only a couple of pounds a month less than taking all five.

Mature radicals believe such bad behaviour should be neither encouraged nor rewarded.

This particular football-obsessed, mature radical decided a couple of months ago to kick the habit of Sky Premiership football and simply desist.

The reasons were complex but at its heart such a momentous decision taken after many, many years of unthinking support was mainly about economics.

I could still afford to pay the ever-rising charges but simply didn’t want to any more. The guilt of not watching all those paid for encounters as commentators tried to breathe life into tedious mid-table draws became too great.

There was also the realisation that reading a book on a Sunday afternoon could be much more enjoyable without said commentators prattling on in the background.

Oh how much better to save yourself and your time by avoiding all knowledge of the results and immersing yourself in the pleasure of Match of the Day - exciting football with all the boring bits removed.

It helps, of course, if you support a team such as QPR with little real prospect of joining the Premiership anytime soon.

The main cause of the huge rise in the cost of watching Premiership football over the past decade has of course been the greed of the League itself. It has been happy to price a lot of traditional football supporters out of the subscription market - though maybe not mature radicals - by the way the auctions were structured.

Bring on Sky and BT, battling against each other, for different reasons, for exclusive rights and more and more has been extracted from ordinary television subscribers. As a result billions have gone into the pockets of clubs and ultimately players.

It has been so until now - until the bubbling football TV rights saucepan finally boiled over.

The telling numbers are not the lower bids for the main packages, though that was interesting in itself, but the delays in getting rid of the final two less attractive bundles of rights which apparently did not reach their reserve price.

This particular game has had to go into extra time with the Premiership apparently having to bang them together in a super-bundle and add in near-live rights alongside the live games to get the deal away.

The League’s hope must be that at the death it can breathe new life into a stalling auction by enticing Amazon through the door for the first time.

In retrospect it was the decision in December by Sky and BT to stop trying to kill each other by hugging exclusive TV rights to their breasts that made all the difference.

Exclusivity was the toxin that has driven the rights auction ever upwards until now.

The real surprise is that it took so long for common sense to dawn - an end to the football rights arms race by agreeing to sell their channels to each other’s platforms.

This time the consumer wins, at least in theory, by making it possible to buy all the footy through a single subscription.

It should be possible to avoid price gouging, as the Americans would say, because there will now be downward pressure on rights bidding rather than the reverse.

How the Premier League must now be praying for social media intervention now that Sky and BT have fought themselves to a standstill.

The result of last week’s auction was obviously particularly good for Sky.

At the very least the auction has hit a plateau with Sky paying £1.193 billion a year for the three-year contract that runs from 2019 to 2022, a noticeable reduction of £199 million a year compared with the current deal, or 16 per cent a game less.

Sky will have the rights to broadcast 128 games, two more than last time but with some of the best “first picks” and slots.

Disney might not have appreciated another rush of blood to the head.

BT is paying £295 million a year for 32 matches, 10 fewer in total, and all kicking off at the relatively unattractive time of 12.30pm on Saturdays.

So, this finally has to be good news for football fans wanting to follow their Premiership teams on television after all these years? And grumpy mature radicals can consider a return to the screen?

Alas no.

Sky has made it clear none of the dividend of a weakened football auction is going to be passed on to subscribers.

In a world increasingly awash with drama the £600 million in savings will be used to pay for more original entertainment content.

No bad thing, in itself, although before long there could be signs of overheating in that sector of the media marketplace with bidding up for scarce talent such as actors and writers.

Meanwhile BT seems happy enough with its viable, disciplined second place and a reasonably continuing grasp of broadband - its main motivation for getting into sports rights in the first place.

As for this mature radical no need - or reason - for any change of mind. The pangs of missing footy are lessening with every passing week...and for really big games there are plenty of pubs on tap.

If QPR were, however, against all odds, to somehow get into the Premiership, that might be another matter.

At the very least the subscription costs are unlikely to keep on rising now that the soufflé has collapsed.

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TimArmes, Medai and Development Director, appScatter Ltd on 26 Feb 2018
“Dear Raymond
I enjoyed immensely your article - particularly your description of Mature Radicals though Mrs Armes would describe me as neither radical or mature! What do you think the implications are of this auction for Premier League clubs? Is the gravy train starting to wobble on its biscuit wheels?
I have one suggestion for you, which I make with all due respect, and that is you could always gird up your loins (and wallet) and tootle across to Loftus Road and watch QPR live, in the flesh so to speak.
Just a thought, but thank you very much for an enjoyable article. Best regards, Tim.”
NickDrew, CEO, Fuse Insights on 21 Feb 2018
“It always rankled that BT vs Sky was touted as "competition" that was naturally good for consumers when it was nothing of the sort. As you say, the exclusivity meant that if you wanted to watch all the televised games, or even all your own team's games, you had to buy both BT and Sky Sports packages; and for consumers and pubs, this disincentive was enough, it seems, to cause viewing figures to drop.
Given that the cost of rights has now plateaued, it seems this exclusivity only really suited the Premier League.”
DavidBrennan, Founder, Media Native on 21 Feb 2018
“The economics have traditionally been driven by the value of exclusive sports to drive subscribers to a service they might otherwise be reluctant to take up - so always at a premium to the likely returns from those subscriptions alone. As the market has matured and pay TV is close to saturation point, the next big driver will be from AGFA BUT my guess it will be sometime before they can generate the distribution, scale and - perhaps most importantly - bandwidth to deliver simultaneously to millions of households. So, we're currently in a lull...but for how long?”

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14 Dec 2018 

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