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What will Sky / BT / clubs do when the PL sells itself direct to fans?

By Tony Attwood

There is no doubt that the technology is available.   The Premier League could easily set up its own streaming service along the lines of Netflix and make all its matches available to view to anyone who wants to buy into the service.

This would give the League clubs total control over their “product” allowing them to fit kick-off times and days to their broadcasting schedule and to the demands of both UK and overseas viewers.

Since the whole service would be under their control rather than sold via an outside operator such as BT Sport or Sky Sport the full profit would come into the clubs.   Meanwhile, the fans would not be forced to buy into the whole Sky or BT service, paying for a vast amount of product that they had no interest in whatsoever.

It would result in a significant decrease in revenue to BT and Sky, and a significant increase to the clubs.

In such a scenario, more matches and lower prices looks like a win-win situation but of course this means that there is now a monopoly supplier going direct to the public, which in turn means that the public – the supporters in this case – has no real say in what happens.

Actually that would not mean too much difference since us fans currently have no say in what happens.   But there could be some benefits.

One might be the removal of the endless changes of kick-off days and times.  Since every game would be available live on TV everything could be planned in advance.

But would the actual fans in the stadium still be there?  Would people bother with season tickets when football on TV is cheaper than before, and every match is available?

I suspect so, providing the clubs get a grip and don’t continue to take the paying supporter in the ground for granted.   Paying supporters will put up with a lot for the experience of “being there”.  To see that this is true you only have to go to a game as an away supporter once or twice to see just how awful the experience can be.

And besides, with more and more money coming into the clubs directly there would be no need to force the price of tickets up and up.  If fans stop turning up for games at the current prices, the prices can be dropped.  Certainly what the TV watching audience don’t want is to see half-empty grounds.

Such a development will, of course, strike fear into the likes of BT Sport and Sky because they will lose the goose laying the golden egg.  Sky has already suffered a lot from the advent of movie streaming services and now would find its other major source of income – football – vanishing from its screens.

And undoubtedly if football makes a go of this project, so will other sports.  F1 would surely follow.

Amazon, who have helped the Premier League experiment with the idea of all matches available might get the contract from the PL, but it would make more commercial sense for the PL to own the whole system itself and simply say to Amazon, thanks for your help, now go away.

Of course what could really boost audience numbers would be a system that was fan friendly – but this may be too much to ask for.  A situation in which all PL games were available live, but fans only had to pay for the right to watch each individual club if that’s all they wanted – at the same time with the cost of going to matches in person greatly reduced (something the clubs could afford because they would be selling their TV presentations direct to their audience.

The problem is that this fans nirvana of all games available to everyone at a much lower cost without having to buy in matches that are of no interest and indeed sports that are of no interest is utterly against the way football has worked for years.

Added to which it puts all the power in the hands of the PL / PGMO alliance, meaning that any real discussion about what is actually happening in terms of match-fixing and the like would be even more of a dream than it is now.   The Premier League would have absolute power over what was broadcast and how it was broadcast, and as we know, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

It is not impossible to imagine hundreds of thousands of fans having their season tickets removed from them because of their failure to behave in keeping with the League’s own defined TV personality, (or indeed their failure to turn up for games).  After all WHU are already in the process of banning fans for wearing certain t-shirts, so why not ban them for joining in certain chants?  The WeCareDoYou alliance bemoan the soullessness of the Arsenal Stadium so why not ban those fans who don’t make any noise?

We know that fan behaviour can have a massive impact on a club – just look at the impact on Arsenal of the Wenger Out movement and all that follows.  The club has been turned from one that had the second-longest run in the Champions League in the history of the game, to a club that is now having its worst run (in terms of league victories) in over 100 years.   All in the space of four seasons.  That is quite an expression of fan power.

What the clubs want is absolute control – and it is now available to them, if they want to take it.  I suspect they will, and Sky and BT are about to see the golden goose waddle off.

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