Premier League clubs receive huge amounts of money every year from Sky Sports and BT Sport in exchange for the right to televise matches. Between the two companies, in excess of £3 billion was spent for the rights between 2013 and 2016, whilst the figure will rise by more than 71% to around £5.2 billion for the next three seasons.
But what some people might not realise, is that whilst in England not all matches can be shown live, in every other country in the world they can.
Champions Leicester City were only shown on live TV 15 times in the league last year, which is less than 40% of their matches. Runners up Arsenal were shown the most, but even they only had 70% of their matches screened live.
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In countries all around the world, the Premier League is becoming increasingly popular. In countries like Norway, India, China and the USA, hundreds of miles away from where the action is taking place, and at all times of day or night because of the time difference, every Premier League game is shown live, yet they are not in England. It does not seem fair, does it?
The explanation the Premier League gives is that attendances at Premier League stadia would reduce if people were able to watch every match at home on TV, and the coverage would be less impressive – and less marketable – due to poorer atmospheres.
Empty seats do not look good on TV, and would damage the appeal of the league. Clubs do not want to miss out on the extra revenue generated on match-day either. Fair enough, but attendances would not decrease at every club.
Liverpool, for example, have closed their season ticket waiting list because it has become so long (recently it was estimated to be at least twelve years by the club), despite the expansion of Anfield taking the capacity to nearly 60,000 when all sections are complete.
Tickets for the entire season sell out within three hours because demand is so high (tickets are sold for the first half of the season all on one day, and then for the second half of the season on another day a few months later).
Even Manchester City, ridiculed frequently by rival fans for not being able to sell out the Etihad, managed an average of 98.1% of seats being filled last season. No stadium is ever completely full on the day because people find that they cannot make matches at short notice for a variety of other reasons.
Anfield, for example, saw 96.8% of seats actually vacated even though they were officially sold out months previously. However, when lots of fans are struggling to get tickets because demand is so high, it is completely unfair that they cannot then watch matches on TV when tickets are sold out anyway.
Companies like Sky Sports and BT Sport send cameras to matches even when they are not being shown live to use the material for highlights shows, so nothing would need to change for them. They would actually be able to make more money by showing more games live because that would tempt more people into buying their packages.
The solution is simple: if a Premier League club can prove that tickets in the home section have sold out or the ground is expected to be more than about 95% full, which more than half of teams averaged last year, then the match can then be allowed to be screened live on TV for all those without tickets.
That way, the coverage is still as valuable as before, because stadia will be full, and at the same time fans unable to get a ticket would still get to see the game. All parties are satisfied – the clubs, the Premier League, the supporters and the TV companies – and more people can access the sport they love. More matches on TV means more people are encouraged to get involved in football and the next generation of players can be inspired.
Another option would be to introduce live coverage of matches across the country, except for within a twenty-mile radius of the stadium, except in circumstances where tickets are sold out. For most of the ‘smaller’ Premier League teams, from Middlesbrough through to Bournemouth, fans who travel to matches are often from the local area; if they get tickets to the games then the lack of matches on TV would not affect them, or the atmosphere in the stadium.
The issue with this method is that the larger teams often have fans who come from much further afield to watch matches – Liverpool’s large following in Scandinavia or Manchester United’s huge support in Asia are just two examples – and local people often struggle to get tickets. However, these teams are likely to sell out, so would be excused from the black-out anyway.
Either way, the limited number of live fixtures in England is something that needs addressing. It simply is not right that people in England should have the least televised access to English matches.
What is more, the solutions put forward benefit all sides. More money can be made, the ever-growing brand of the Premier League can be further built upon, and most importantly, English supporters can watch English matches on TV like the rest of the world can.
If anything, English fans should get the most opportunity to access their own teams, not the least, and these two solutions are both viable options to change this.