How free-to-air Premier League TV games could reshape football forever

The Premier League will be shown on free-to-air TV during lockdown – but is it a good thing for the beautiful game?

Premier League TV camera

By the 17th June we’ll have been stuck in our homes for over 13 weeks, yet the desire to leave the house will never be lower for millions as the Premier League screeches back into action.

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League officials have confirmed provisional dates for the top flight comeback and revealed that Sky Sports, BT Sport and Amazon Prime Video will be joined by BBC in beaming live games to the nation.

How to watch Premier League on BBC, Sky Sports, BT Sport and Amazon Prime

Four live games will be shown via the public service broadcaster, while Sky will make 25 matches of their 64-strong haul available to watch on a free-to-air channel when the time comes.

There are 92 games remaining in the 2019/20 season with at least 29 – a third – to be made available to 70 million people across the UK. Seismic.

It cannot be underestimated how significant this lockdown period could be for the future of Premier League broadcasting, an unprecedented testing ground for mass consumption.

The league flogged its TV rights for the 2019-2022 cycle for approximately £4.5 billion in the UK. You can double that number for the grand total worldwide, but let’s keep the focus on this country for now.

Under normal circumstances, the current deal would see 200 games shown on British TV across the span of a season with regular days and time slots set aside for coverage. But these aren’t normal circumstances. The traditional 3pm blackout has been eradicated in the name of completing the 92 games.

Man City Pep Guardiola

Kick off times have been staggered at weekends so that all 10 games per ‘matchday’ can be viewed back-to-back for the first time ever, and midweek games will air at 6pm and 8pm across three days meaning there will be at least one Premier League game on TV every single day for as long as it takes to complete the season. Simply astounding.

But what does it all mean? Well, aside from bidding farewell to our state-mandated exercise, socially-distanced picnics and strolls through the bluebells at Barnard Castle in the name of soaking up every minute of Premier League football, that is physically possible.

In the short term, it’s nothing short of an enormous win for the consumer, the fans who have missed sport and are in desperate need of a joyous outlet – though Norwich fans may not be so thrilled as the rest.

However, in the long term, this experiment the Premier League is about to embark on could reshape the way we all consume football in the UK forever.

Just how many people will tune in to watch free-to-air Premier League games? If the BBC can draw in 16 million fans to watch a selection of FA Cup third round matches, how many more could they attract to watch a potential Everton v Liverpool title decider?

This is a chance for the Premier League to size up their customer base. Of course, factors such as the empty stadiums, ‘there’s nothing else on’ and initial novelty will swell the numbers at first, but once the lockdown league settles into its rhythm and the viewing figures calm to a steady, resting pulse, officials will have amassed comprehensive data to assess the future of the game.

It has long been suggested that the Premier League could fashion an over-the-top (OTT) streaming service that would cut out the broadcasting middle men and send games directly to fans for a subscription fee. The idea has been touted by Premier League chief executive Richard Masters as recently as February this year, before the world changed.

Now the Premier League has more freedom than ever before, a clear shot at testing staggered kick off times, days and platforms to advance a longer term plan of rushing behind a paywall of their own, as opposed to that of a third party. We should celebrate free-to-air football, absolutely, but this could be the catalyst for a whole new era of Premier League broadcasting in a post-corona world.

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