Competition is supposed to make products and services cheaper, but instead, the competition between the likes of Sky Sports and BT Sport is only driving up the prices of watching football for fans.
From 1992 to 2007, Sky had exclusive rights to broadcasting all the live Premier League matches and the Champions League action was shown on terrestrial television on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Now, Premier League and Champions League action is spread too thinly across too many networks.
In 1992, Sky made history by taking live top-flight English league football from terrestrial and free-to-air television to a subscription-based package for the first time ever. The recently founded broadcasting company beat the BBC and ITV to the rights to show live and exclusive Premier League football by bidding £304 million.
Fans had all the Premier League football they could want in one place, under one subscription.
However, since 2007-08, the Premier League has been obliged to sell its broadcasting rights to multiple channels, ending Sky’s previous monopoly, which was found to breach European competition law.
Along came Setanta Sports, which was replaced by ESPN, and then BT Sport as Sky’s main Premier League broadcasting rival.
Unsurprisingly, this new competition drove up the price that broadcasters had to pay to secure Premier League rights, hence the increased price of subscription packages for customers.
Data from the Journal of Sports Economics (Graphic: Datawrapper/i Paper Sport)
From 2019, another broadcaster will come into the picture, but not in the conventional model. Amazon saw off competition from Facebook and Netflix to gain the rights to show 20 Premier League matches a season in the 2019/20 season.
The online streaming service will show every game from the first round of midweek fixtures in December and all 10 matches on 26 December as part of a three-year deal. The matches will be available free to Amazon Prime members.
It will become even more difficult for fans to keep track of their favourite team from next season when Amazon enter the picture, and the Premier League are asking fans to pay even more money.
Sky lost the rights to the Champions League to BT Sport in 2013, and no longer show highlights of the goals on Sky Sports News.
Virgin Sports Media is now the main broadcaster of the Champions League in Ireland. The new channel replaced TV3, who went out of business and Virgin are now making customers pay €20 a month to watch Champions League games.
One game a week is shown on Tuesday nights on RTE, but the days when all the big Champions League games were shown on terrestrial TV are long gone.
Sky was also the exclusive broadcaster of La Liga in the UK and Ireland until 2018/19. The rights to broadcast live Spanish football were snapped up by new boys Eleven Sports, who have also acquired the rights to Serie A.
Wales manager Ryan Giggs has said that he has not been able to watch Gareth Bale play his club football this season due to La Liga’s new broadcasting deal.
“I’ve not seen many of his games. They are not on Sky. They are on Eleven Sports – I haven’t got that!’” Giggs admitted.
If even Ryan Giggs, one of the most decorated Premier League players ever, has decided not to pay the Eleven Sports subscription fee to watch his star man play, how are fans expected to?
In a report by the Irish Times in July, it was found that if a sports fan wanted access to all the live sport available across Sky Sports, BT Sport, Virgin Media Sports and Eleven Sports, it would cost over €2,000 a year.
This is a ridiculous figure that no fan should have to pay to watch their favourite team.
In Germany, a new channel called DAZN, who brand themselves, “a Netflix for Sport” have secured the rights to thousands of live matches, including the Premier League. The monthly subscription is €9.99 a month.
However, with BT and Sky bidding a collective £5.14bn for the rights to show the Premier League over the next few years, a single, low monthly sporting subscription isn’t likely to arrive anytime soon in the UK and Ireland.
Former Celtic manager Jock Stein once said, “Football without fans would be nothing.”
However, the greed of the distributors of live sport is making fans pay saturated prices for their sports subscription packages and leading to more and more fans turning to illegal streams or stopping watching football entirely.
Supporting your favourite team should be an enjoyable hobby or passion, but these new broadcasting deals are turning it into an expensive, time-consuming and thankless task.