Is a Premier League live streaming service the future of watching football?

Craig Hanson 3 weeks ago

It looks increasingly likely that soon a “Netflix of Football” will spell the end of pay TV domination

After two seasons of turmoil brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Premier League recently agreed to renew its existing TV rights deal with broadcasters through 2025. Executives were understandably keen to protect the status quo and bring some financial stability to the league and its clubs after what has been a tumultuous time for institutions at the top and bottom of the pyramid. As pay TV providers Sky and BT, free-to-air broadcaster BBC and global streaming giant Amazon Prime Video put pen to paper on the deal, many in the industry once again looked to the future. The question on the lips of many is when can we expect to see a standalone live streaming platform, a “Netflix” for football?

Football fans want convenience just like everybody else does

The beautiful game is one of life’s simplest pleasures but unfortunately it is becoming increasing complicated to watch. Football as a product has never been so popular and the Premier League in particular possesses a captivated global audience with a never ending thirst for content. The problem is, as more and more people move away from traditional television and on to agile online platforms like Netflix, Amazon and Disney for their shows and movies, football’s industry leader is stuck in the pay TV era, and will be for at least a few more years.

The Premier League has always been an innovator, and you’ve got to imagine that its execs are already plotting their route out of old, fusty TV and into the world of live streaming. More and more young people today don’t even own a classic TV. They own tablets, smartphones, laptops, perhaps monitors to plug them into, but the days of sitting around the tele and watching the game are slowly dying out. Will the Premier League be ready to capitalise on this shift? Football fans want the convenience of watching football wherever and whenever on their favourite devices.

The cost of football is far too high

The issue of the rising cost of being a football fan is a familiar one but it bears repeating. In terms of going to a game pre-pandemic, a Premier League fan could expect to spend on average £32 for a ticket to a single match, before taking into account any other expenditures. When it comes to in-house viewing, the average football fan spends around £76 per month on Sky, BT and Amazon to guarantee they can see their club’s games. While these providers are offering live streaming on their various apps and websites, the cost is still far too high when you compare it to those of other entertainment entities like Netflix and Disney+.

A switch like this would also help combat piracy. Many young people find themselves going online looking for dodgy, illegal live streams to watch matches either because they can’t afford to pay or they don’t own a television. If they had an affordable, live streaming option which they could access from a laptop or mobile device, they would be less likely to try to cheat the system  - meaning more money in fans’ pockets and more revenue for the league and clubs.

A lot of fans get roped into buying overpriced bundles of broadband, TV and sport at eye watering prices when in reality they just want to watch the football. Sky and BT do offer alternatives like Now which can make it easier to get only sport, but you still have the same issue. You either pay a crazy high price for a single football match or you get “value for money” with some kind of Now membership to get all sport. Many fans don’t want rugby, Formula 1, etc. They want the Premier League. They would rather not pay three different bills to a total of £76 when reasonable projections suggest the Premier League as a solo enterprise could offer them something similar to Netflix, a £10 per month subscription for football and only football - simple, cheap, convenient.

We are already seeing the groundwork laid down

Amazon Prime got in on the Premier League rights game back in 2019 and it was immediately seen as a game changer. The EFL’s iFollow platform has given fans the ability to follow their team’s matches via live streaming throughout the era of stadium closures brought about by the pandemic. Flawed as both may be, they’ve already laid the groundwork for a future “Netflix of the Premier League”.

The problem with Amazon has been that fans again don’t want to pay for content they don’t care about. Taking out a monthly sub for Prime just to watch one or two matches has been tedious and costly, especially when many of them don’t want to stick around and enjoy the movies and shows on there, which was clearly the goal to begin with. iFollow can be a little basic and low rent compared to the production quality of the big broadcasters which fans have become accustomed to. However, despite these issues, they’ve proven that a live streaming platform for football can be viable and with a little tweaking from the Premier League it could be the future.

Huge Library of content

One issue with the business model of Netflix was that they had to spend the first decade of their existence taking on mountains of debt in order to build up a reasonable library for their subscribers. Now they’ve got a great library of content and a huge subscriber base, they will probably reap the rewards for years and years to come. The Premier League wouldn’t have such a problem. They already have a wealth of content saved up over the years in terms of classic matches, documentaries, interviews etc which they could make available as drip feed ad infinitum, and their main attraction - live football coverage - is nowhere near as costly and complicated to produce as original movies and shows. They could be turning a profit in a relatively short amount of time.

Get rid of the middle man

The overall benefit of a dedicated live streaming platform for the world’s richest and most powerful league would be to cut out the middle man. As justifiably derided as the plans of the European Super League and Project Big Picture were, one correct observation they made was the need for clubs to have greater access to their own broadcasting rights. Both proposals included clauses in which clubs would have the ability to produce and market their own matches.

This would allow them to attract greater global audiences. In partnership with the Premier League they could navigate the clear logistical issues this would present - the need to produce coverage in multiple languages, with multiple broadcasting teams etc - and give fans both in the UK and abroad, a platform to consume the football they love without the need for several different subscriptions to old school pay TV companies.

Football is so huge because of money. That money exists because of the allure of football clubs, players and fundamentally the leagues they exist within. Taking out the middle man would put power and autonomy in the hands of the Premier League and its clubs, and on the whole this would benefit football fans too. The experience of watching football from home would become cheaper, easier and more convenient and it wouldn’t cost the clubs, they would make even more money at the same time.

As the world becomes more digital, it seems like a no-brainer that the business of football must adapt to the era of live streaming. The only question remaining is when can we see this seismic shift take place?

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Craig Humpage

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