PL TV deal - more money, more problems?
Posted on 20th October 2023
News that the Premier League plans to broadcast around 270 of its games, up from 200, is unwelcome but not entirely unsurprising for matchgoing supporters.
Here’s a deep dive into the subject…
The new deal kicks in from 2025-26 and will see more games moved for broadcast, which the FSA opposes due to the difficulty these changes cause matchgoing fans, although it’s difficult to know exactly how many more games will be moved at present.
This is because some (but not all) of those additional 70 games will be made up of fixtures which would have moved anyway because of European competitions (e.g. a club competing in a Thursday Europa League fixture will be moved to a Sunday kick-off).
Before we set out our position a little more, it’s probably worth summarising exactly what will change for the domestic UK audience:
- An increase in televised fixtures from 200 to 270. That’s an average of almost two extra broadcast matches per gameweek.
- The Saturday 3pm blackout remains which means these additional televised games will take place at other times (mostly Sunday afternoons).
- Five different packages are going up for tender. Each package has between 42-65 games.
- Five midweek fixture rounds are now available for broadcast (up from four) alongside Saturday 12.30pm/5.30pm, Sunday 2pm/4.30pm and an 8pm Friday or Monday slot.
- The Premier League’s current domestic and overseas broadcast package brings in around £10bn combined across a three-year deal. The new deal will run across four years starting in 2025-26.
What does the FSA think?
We have always been opposed to the ever-increasing influence that broadcasters have in dictating kick-off times, often to the detriment of matchgoing supporters.
This new deal will have a huge impact on the number of Saturday 3pm kick-offs, especially those involving clubs competing in Europe, with top-flight weekends often consisting of only one or two Saturday 3pm fixtures and as many as six Sunday games.
Sadly the broadcasters don’t seem to care while the Premier League’s executive is clearly targeted with driving up the broadcast income at the behest of clubs.
Ultimately it is our own clubs who sell us out as they are the rights holders and they choose to generate more money from broadcasters by putting games here, there and everywhere.
We would like to see clubs do a lot more for supporters with the billions generated from TV.
What should they do?
We see far too many examples of “conditional picks” – that is games which broadcasters announce in their TV schedules when we know there is a very good chance the game will be moved (again) should one of the teams progress in European competition.
How about a broadcaster commitment to avoiding “conditional picks” while the Premier League and its clubs could offer free / subsidised tickets to supporters if a game is moved twice due to avoidable reasons?
And don’t let anyone tell you football doesn’t have the money to do more for supporters.
Remember the hand wringing over atmospheres when stadiums were empty during the COVID-19 pandemic? Matchgoers are critical to the success of the “product” and TV revenues would collapse if the stands were empty.
Deloitte reported that clubs generated £763m in matchday revenue during the 2021-22 season. So it wouldn’t be a total surprise if the new TV deal increases by more than the total amount received in gate receipts – if that happens they could let everyone in for free and be no worse off!
Obviously no-one is asking for free tickets but it shows the amount of money we’re talking about here – football can easily do more to help matchgoers when their lives are made more difficult by the whims of TV executives chasing ratings.
We also have to keep what we’ve already won – the Premier League must maintain the £30 away cap that was secured by the FSA and has been instrumental in ensuring that away ends are largely full. This should not be taken for granted.
While there is plenty to pick at there’s also a small win for supporters as the Premier League has abandoned a potential Sunday evening kick-off slot after a big supporter backlash (although fans in the Women’s Super League still have to put up with these).
As far back as 2014 we wrote to Ofcom and said we were “opposed to any significant increase in the total number of Premier League matches televised live each season”.
At the time the Premier League actually claimed to support our stance, although that feels like a long, long time ago now. Back in 2015 around 168 games were sold for broadcast.
We have repeatedly made the argument that Saturday 3pm is the most popular kick-off slot for matchgoing supporters and moving the game around the calendar hits us hard with endless logistical challenges posed by Sunday games in particular.
Our Broadcast Working Group, which is made up of supporters from our network of top flight supporters’ groups, has discussed the issue at length with the Premier League over many seasons with some successes but no magic bullet.
Those discussions have focused on:
- Communication and broadcast fixtures – the more notice the better for fans. This led to the Premier League listing dates by which it “aspired” to announce TV slots. We would prefer a 12-week notice period but they settled upon six weeks (and didn’t always hit that target).
- Number of TV slots – the increase in the overall number of games broadcast is rubbish for matchgoing fans but there have been some small wins such as the Premier League quietly backpedalling from Sunday evening TV slots after a big supporter backlash.
- Supporter consultation – with the Government pressing ahead with its work on football regulation expect to see more consultation which can have a positive impact around the margins e.g. neither broadcasters nor clubs tend to have a clue that something as simple as a strike or engineering works might make a certain televised slot almost impossible for travelling fans. Increased supporter engagement and involvement on Safety Advisory Groups can help mitigate and put a line through some potential fixture horror slots.
- Policing – should a fixture be deemed ‘High Risk’, it should not be selected in TV slots that will inevitably end up in a wrangle between the league, broadcasters and police. Delays to announcing such kick-off times put supporters out more than anyone. It’s another reason to have supporter group involvement on local Safety Advisory Groups (something which national safety chiefs at the Sports Ground Safety Authority also back).
Our Broadcast Working Group submitted a detailed paper to the Premier League on the above in July 2023 which has been seen by the Premier League executive and clubs. We’ll discuss their response in more detail with them at the next FSA / Premier League supporter engagement meeting.