June felt like the turning point, in more ways than one.
The height of the coronavirus pandemic appeared to have passed, rays of normality shone through into houses as summer approached.
Long before we were told to Eat Out to Help Out, a feast had already been laid out for the football-starved masses.
An unprecedented level of live Premier League fixtures being shown live on TV, night after night, game after game, satiated a sport-hungry nation deprived of their bread and butter for months.
What’s more, not only were the games flooding through on a daily basis, but it was made available, accessible, free. For all.
Conversations with alienated parents and grandparents who still refer to the Premier League as ‘the first division’ or the ‘Premiership’, those unable to afford or too casual a fan to shell out on elite-tier live football were brought back to the table. We dined, and it was good.
That explains the social media table-flipping, the online outcry, the palpable ‘sigh’ across the nation as the Premier League reared its head to announce: “All fixtures until the end of October will continue to be made available to fans to watch live in the UK.”
They key omission from this apparent headline of continued generosity? ‘For free’.
The Premier League offered a beacon of escapism for a time during lockdown. Without a crowd of baying and paying spectators, it lacked the same vibe, it lacked the same energy, but it was still football, and it was better than nothing.
Every game not picked by Sky Sports or BT Sport was dished out for free via Sky and their wonderful Pick TV free-to-air distribution channel, Amazon Prime Video and even the BBC (among the rankings of wild scenes in 2020, the BBC airing Premier League football is right up there).
Those days are now over. We’re no longer eating out to help out, cases are rising, and the free football buffet has been picked clean.
Sky Sports Box Office and BT Sport Box Office will be the new go-to channels, charging £14.95 a pop for games Sky and BT deem to be the least enticing of a particular gameweek.
The broadcasters are not at fault here, they are merely providing broadcasting infrastructure.
Proceeds will be donated to the poor, suffering Premier League 20, who managed to scrape their pennies together and pay out a cool billion pounds on superfluous transfer fees, commit to hundreds of millions more in salaries over multiple years, and to line the pockets of agents who permit clubs to operate – the real power players.
It is true, Premier League clubs have lost a mint in matchday earnings due to restrictions. Hundreds of millions of pounds have gone unspent on pies, beers, Bovril and – in West Ham’s case – popcorn.
Fans are farms, masked by hollow sentiments across official club social media channels. ‘Without fans, football is nothing’ frequently does the rounds, ‘we miss you
r wallet‘ is another.
This latest move to scuttle Premier League games behind another paywall couldn’t have felt more misjudged.
Existing Sky Sports and BT Sport customers who stuck with their subscriptions despite a sum total of zero live Premier League games for months on end have every right to feel annoyed.
An opt-in additional monthly fee may have been an option. Subscribers could double the amount of football they receive each week for a little extra, a fair trade? Perhaps.
However, a crude one-size-fits-all fee per game slapped across a bunch of products few are in the market to buy is not the way.
Arguments of ‘it’s cheaper than going to a game’ ring hollow when you consider that the cost of watching your team’s remaining 34 Premier League fixtures in 2020/21 on a box office channel would rack up to £508.30. Plus any subscription services you are already tied into paying for.
That’s more costly than an in-person, real world season ticket at many clubs. Would music festival fans pay into the hundreds to watch their favourite artists perform in an empty field? Of course they wouldn’t.
This could have been the Premier League’s chance to bring Premier League football back to the masses, it could have been a chance to re-hook to detached, re-engage the disillusioned.
Instead, they’ve looked at die-hards in the eye and tempted them to switch off.
Check out our relaunched Football Times podcast featuring special guests, FPL tips and match previews. For the full breakdown of what games are coming up check out our Premier League fixtures on TV guide. If you’re looking for something else to watch check out our TV Guide.