With BT committing £730 million to the company’s investment of Premier League rights, they have launched an attack on Sky as they go head-to-head in a bid to be the lead provider of live football. Can it work? Past experience would suggest not.
A good example of the perils of being the company with 38 games is Setanta. Priced at £10-per-month, many saw this as expensive when there were only four live Premier League games on offer.
Compounding the issue, due to the nature of the ‘first picks’, Sky generally had the most important games to show. This meant Setanta had mid-table games, and although these attracted audiences of the clubs that were involved they very rarely achieved the same level as the top four encounters that Sky could show.
On top of this, Setanta could not attract the best pundits, because many of them already worked for Sky, or the new pundits wanted to work for Sky. After a short time Setanta GB entered administration and the venture for Premier League rights ended.
After this, ESPN took over with more promising signs for the executives of BT. With an improved arsenal of FA Cup football, Italian football and German football, it attracted football fans with its range of European Leagues.
The backing the UK channel received from its American creator was large, and the package also came with ESPN America and ESPN Classic. It was also free on the most expensive Virgin Media package.
Yet ESPN still struggled with some of the problems of its predecessor Setanta; the quality of games and pundits were simply not as good as what Sky could offer. There’s only so much of Robbie Savage anyone can take.
It all boils down to one real issue, with 38 games and only 18 first picks, a second Premier League broadcaster can only hope to have two games a month that many football fans want to see.
As the packages have previously been £10-per-month this meant that going to the pub to watch the odd game was probably cheaper and fans got to have a few pints as well. This creates a vastly decreased home television market for any competitor to Sky.
So what can BT take from this? It has endeavoured to follow an ESPN style model showing a range of different leagues and sports as well as attracting well respected pundits. Whether they will be successful enough to carry on will remain unanswered until next year and will hinge on whether they continue bidding for rights, but it remains to be seen whether just 38 live games is enough for any football fan in one season.
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