Nothing is ever simple in football. After weeks of campaigning to ensure fans could watch their teams while access to stadiums is denied, we should have been celebrating the announcement that they can and with it a great victory for fan power. However, once again, the Premier League, Clubs and Broadcasters have managed to turn what could have been a positive into a negative. Because, once again, they did not have a proper conversation with the fans.
The announcement that games broadcast on TV outside the existing contract will be priced at £14.95 per view has prompted a huge backlash. We believe a better deal was not only desirable, but possible and we are backing the Football Supporters’ Association’s call for a rethink. It is a positive thing that the clubs have finally recognised that fans need to be able to see their teams while stadiums are closed. This has happened because of sustained pressure from fans. Broadcasting all games means that, on two fronts, the situation is better than normal.
First, ALL fans, not just season ticket holders or regular match-goers, are now able to watch their team legally when they play league games. Second, those fans who would normally pay for a ticket to attend the match in person are paying less than they would per game to watch their team. Of course, watching on TV is an inferior experience for regular match-going fans and there will be a variety of views on what price properly reflects that. But the statements above remain true.
However, the price of £14.95 per game is too high. And because it is too high, it could have damaging effects – not just on individual fan’s finances at a time when many are stretched. It will encourage use of illegal streams, therefore diverting money from the game. And it will encourage people to gather in households and pubs to watch games together.
We want to know how the Premier League arrived at the price point of £14.95. We would have hoped that, through the dialogue between the Premier League and the Football Supporters’ Association, fan groups would have been canvassed on price sensitivity. Needless to say, this did not happen. It is an opportunity missed. The respected journalist, Henry Winter of the Times, posted on twitter: “£14.95 to watch a game on pay per view is disgraceful. £5, ok, but £14.95? It’s disgusting. At a time when PL clubs spent £1.2bn on players. When they’ll give agents £200m. When so many families are struggling. The creed of greed is in @premierleague DNA but this truly stinks”.
The current plan particularly penalises fans of those clubs less likely, like Burnley, to be selected on the regular broadcast schedule. We will have to pay more to watch our team than fans of the so-called glamour clubs. A cheaper price point would not only have been fairer, it would have had more chance of expanding the audience and generating more income and it would have shown that the Premier League is aware of the situation people outside its bubble are in.
The devil, as always, is in the detail. We need to know whether or not existing customers of the broadcasters involved will have to pay the same as new ones. We need to know if fans who have already paid up front for all or part of their season ticket will be able to offset that against the pay-per-view deal. The situation at each club will be different, but these details matter.
We also need to know where the money is going – to the clubs, or to the TV companies. We understand broadcasters incur costs by televising games. We also understand that, despite its regular boasting about its financial success, the Premier League is being hit financially by the current pandemic. Few businesses give their products away for free and they are especially unlikely to do so when income has been severely affected. At a time when fans are struggling financially, they are now being asked to pay out even more for what is essentially an inferior product when compared with live football.
The accumulated cost of season tickets, subscriptions to BT Sport, Sky Sports, Amazon Prime, Premier Sports along with the streaming fees for EFL Cup games and, potentially, FA Cup games in challenging fiscal times places additional stress on fans’ finances and that’s something the broadcasters, clubs and competition organisers must recognise. We understand that clubs did not want to link broadcast charges to season ticket packages because of the administrative burden. We do not believe the answer is to pass the administrative and financial burden on to fans.
Despite the clubs reportedly voting almost unanimously for this (and congratulations to Leicester City for opposing), it did not take long for anonymous briefings to surface suggesting some clubs didn’t really agree with what they had voted for and without pushing for extra time to consult with their fan representatives. That came in the face of almost universal condemnation of the decision. This suggests at least some clubs know they have got this terribly wrong. We also hope that this model does not stop the pressure that Clubs, Trusts and fan groups have been placing on the government to allow fans to safely return to stadiums.
So we will say this once again, simply, so it cannot be misunderstood.
Sit down with the fans. Agree a deal that works for everyone. And then we can all get back to enjoying football and dealing with the many pressing other problems in life.
We are extremely disappointed at the decision by broadcasters to screen Premier League games as part of a Pay Per View model.