The Premier League looks set to scrap the pay-per-view system for its matches and provide beleaguered football fans with a boost this lockdown.
Pay-per-view, also known as PPV, is a television service in which viewers are required to pay a fee in order to watch a specific programme. It is used successfully in combat sports, such as boxing and UFC. Although a ‘bundle’ subscription covers most of the content, pay-per-view is reserved for the biggest bouts, which also feature at least four more fights on the undercard. Moreover, the paid fee contributes directly to the fighter’s purse, thus creating a stigma towards illegal streaming.
PL clubs voted 19-1 in favour of the “interim solution” in October in an attempt to recuperate revenue from absent ticket sales.
In the midst of a global pandemic and recession, football fans are already paying through the nose to follow their clubs.
On every matchday since, five matches that were not picked to be live broadcasted have been available via Sky Sports Box Office and BT Sport Box Office for £14.95 each.
The pay-per-view fee comes on top of the ‘bundles’ offered by Sky Sports, BT Sport and Amazon Prime needed to watch live top-flight football. Sky Sports costs £66 per month with a £30 instalment fee; BT Sport is £25 per month with a £20 instalment fee; Amazon Prime is £80 annually. In the midst of a global pandemic and recession, football fans are already paying through the nose to follow their clubs.
Although the Premier League maintains that lockdown has brought about their U-Turn, strong opposition has played its part – the pay-per-view method had been met with fierce backlash from all sectors of the footballing world.
Liverpool’s fan group the Spirit of Shankly labelled the decision to charge £14.95 as “a disgrace,” while the Football Supporters’ Association previously “urge[d] BT Sport and Sky Sports to reconsider their pricing for these games.”
Protesting fans have raised more than £300,000 by boycotting PPV and instead donating the fee to charity
Alex Hurst, chair of Newcastle United’s Supporters Trust, said: “The idea that Premier League clubs need to implement PPV because of economic needs would carry more weight if they hadn’t just spent £1bn on players, furloughed staff, received government loans, weren’t charging fans for games they aren’t going to and hadn’t just made thousands of staff redundant.”
Protesting fans have raised more than £300,000 by boycotting PPV and instead donating the fee to charity.
Newcastle United’s much-maligned owner Mike Ashley even weighed into the debate on the supporters’ side: “charging £14.95 for single televised matches in the current climate it is not acceptable to any football fan.” His manager Steve Bruce agreed and suggested reducing the pay-per-view fee to £5.
[Sky and BT] are not earning any profit from PPV and believe that the move is damaging their brand image
West Brom manager Slaven Bilic argued convincingly against PPV. When asked about the matter in a post-match press conference, the Croatian said:
“It’s not my money, it’s their [fans’] money. Football should not be free, but affordable, and I always used to say football is not polo or golf, it’s the sport for masses, a working-class sport and it should be affordable to everybody.”
High profile pundits have criticised PPV too. Gary Neville told Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football that the system was a failure: “It’s finished, no-one is paying for it, no-one is watching it, it’s done.” The former Manchester United and England right-back suggested a government-appointed watchdog to counteract such foolhardy initiatives.
The Daily Mirror has reported that even broadcasters Sky and BT are against pay-per-view in the Premier League. They are not earning any profit from PPV and believe that the move is damaging their brand image.
One of the reasons for the low PPV figures is that fans are being pushed towards illegal streams as an alternative.
The rejection of pay-per-view is a small victory for the fan against billionaire owners in the ongoing war for the beautiful game’s soul
The model used in September, whereby all games were shown live by the Premier League’s broadcast partners, seems to be the preferred option going forward. It could last until the end of the season.
5.7 million people tuned in to watch Southampton’s 1-0 win over Manchester City in July on the BBC: the highest domestic viewing figures in the history of the Premier League. This demonstrates a viable audience on terrestrial television.
Unfortunately, money still rules. The wealth gap between the richest and poorest clubs continues to grow exponentially. The rejection of pay-per-view is a small victory for the fan against billionaire owners in the ongoing war for the beautiful game’s soul. Nevertheless, the win was hard-fought and necessary.
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