Updated: Dec 30, 2021
COVID-19 has fundamentally transformed the sporting landscape. However, the long-term impact of the virus may have unexpected consequences, one of which may be bringing about radical changes in established broadcast models.
The final 92 Premier League fixtures of last season were all broadcast live on television and for the first-time games were shown free-to-air on the BBC. With fans still unable to access stadiums, all games will continue to be broadcast this season until at least October.
In the long-term however, the potential ramifications are much greater. We may be about to witness the greatest shake-up in the domestic sports broadcasting landscape since 1992, when Sky dramatically won the rights to the newly formed Premier League. Nearly thirty years later, the relationship endures, although the landscape has been complicated by the arrival of domestic competitors in the form of BT Sport and Amazon. Increased competition has driven a surge in the value of broadcast deals. The current global agreement in place until 2022 is worth an eye-watering £9.2 billion across three seasons.
It’s not a stretch to suggest that Sky’s organisational fortunes run in parallel with that of the Premier League. However, could COVID-19 accelerate the end of one of the most important and enduring relationships in the history of English football?
We have already seen broadcasters react to the uncertainty. Last season Sky offered its customer a pause on Sports packages to minimise cancellations. At the start of this season BT are offering unlimited changes to their football subscriptions packages through their Unlimited Subs promotion.
However, in a post COVID-19 landscape, the elephant in the room is whether broadcasters will be able to justify the current costs of Premier League rights when they become available again in 2022. If the Premier League foresees difficulties in reaching a comparable level of investment, it may be forced to revaluate its current broadcast model. In fact, the Premier League may well draw inspiration from a surprising source. WWE has recently launched a steaming subscription service at $9.99 per month, combining its role as both the rights holder and the media owner. Even before the COVID-19 crisis had taken hold of Europe, The Premier League’s new chief executive, Richard Masters confirmed they were considering launching their own digital service. This platform would provide live games and other content directly to subscribers.
If the Premier League were to take this approach and based on a hypothetical price point of £15 per month (£180 per year). To plug the £3.1B TV revenue gap, the Premier League would need to attract around 17.5 million subscribers globally. Last season Premier League matches were watched in 1.03 billion homes around the world. In other words, the Premier League would need to sign up less than 2% of its existing audience to maintain their current income-levels. However admittedly this doesn’t take into consideration the considerable additional costs they would incur becoming the media owner. Going it alone would require a substantial set-up and production costs including the creation of new content to pad out the platform and deliver perceived value for money.
There is however, an argument that this would ultimately be beneficial for fans. It was estimated that to subscribe to watch all Premier League matches across Sky, BT Sports and Amazon last season was around £885 per year. This could reduce both cost and complexity, domestically at least.
It’s a multi-billion-pound decision, but ultimately if any rights holder has the capacity to pull it off, it’s probably the Premier League.