No other TV rights deal captures the imagination quite like the Premier League auction which finally concluded yesterday.
The process has become a symbol for the commercialisation of sport, to the point where it is now beyond sport and in actual fact a mere pawn in a wider business battle.
The sums of money involved are truly eye-watering. £5.136 billion was spent on acquiring the rights to 504 live games at an average cost of £10.19m per match. The general public must wonder how this is sustainable but both Sky and BT Sport clearly see the Premier League rights as key to their business strategies to help retain and attract new customers who will ultimately deliver profit to them.
As the Premier League CEO, Richard Scudamore, pointed out when discussing the outcome: “Am I surprised? Little old Premier League here, it’s gone much further than football as a market, it’s a bigger percentage play. These are huge companies doing huge things and we are the beneficiaries of that.”
As the announcement neared last night social media was abuzz with sports news correspondents competing as fiercely as the broadcasters to see who would be first to tweet the details of the deal. The outpouring of those in the know was one of surprise at quite how high the bidding had gone – a 70% increase on the current deal. This was followed by a morality check focused on where all this money will go and who will in fact be benefiting from it?
This is a key question. What does this deal actually mean to match-going and TV armchair fans? Do the majority even care? If they don’t they probably should as there is no doubt they will end up paying for it through increased TV (broadband and phone) subscription costs. For fans flowing through the turnstiles you would presume that all the extra money means ticket costs can be subsidised? Think again. Average adult match day tickets have risen by 15% since 2011 and show no sign of slowing as clubs look to swell match day revenues further still.
The real winners here are the clubs who will see vastly increased sums of money distributed to them via the Premier League. This cash allows them to fund spiralling transfer fees and wages that directly benefit players, their agents and super car dealerships up and down the country. The average Premier League player earns £31,000 a week and that will inevitably rise. No wonder many fans feel alienated from the modern game.
Fortunately, for our industry, it proves that sport properties are as valuable as ever and sponsors will be queuing up to associate themselves with clubs participating the world’s most profitable domestic football league. The real challenge for the Premier League is to make sure that grass roots football sees a big enough slice of the pie. Currently only around 5% of their income filters down the football pyramid and there is huge pressure for the new deal to deliver increased benefits to grass roots football.
The Premier League and its clubs have a real opportunity to re-engage disillusioned fans by reducing ticket costs and investing in better facilities. It would be great PR for all parties concerned if some concrete steps were taken to help bridge the widening conflicts of interest between the fans, the clubs and the Premier League.