With the benefit of hindsight, it now seems inevitable. Nothing that the Premier League or their broadcasting partners has done in recent memory put fans before finances, so why start now? Of course I am referring to Premier League pay per view, the latest financial squeeze put on long-suffering football fans who really should have seen it coming.
The Premier League pay per view backlash marks the low point in a year that has seen the relationship between the average fan and those within the game stretched to breaking point.
First came the decision by multiple Premier League clubs, including newly-crowned champions Liverpool, to try and capitalise on the government’s furlough scheme before most did a scuttling u-turn when the reaction was so sudden and severe.
Then came the redundancies, with Arsenal gaining particular notoriety for making 55 staff jobless due to the ‘economic climate’ at the start of a transfer window that would see them spend nearly £80m on signings.
Now it has been announced that the excess Premier League games, those that were not originally scheduled to be broadcast to Sky and BT customers as part of the agreed broadcasting deal, would no longer be broadcast for ‘free’ on those channels, Amazon Prime or BBC while stadiums remain closed, with fans instead asked to pay £14.95 per game to watch each match via Premier League pay per view.
Of course, as is so often the case, it isn’t the big clubs who will suffer. Or rather fans of the big clubs, in this case. With broadcasters continuing to cherry pick the most favourable fixtures, the less fashionable clubs, who generally are shown less, are the ones who will be left to carry the cost. In the first month, for example, 15 games will be shown on PPV.
All six games featuring Fulham and Aston Villa are on PPV during this period, meaning fans of those clubs will have to shell out £44.85 per person on top of what they might already pay for subscription costs to follow their team. By contrast, the ‘big six’ clubs have six games between them on pay per view, with fans of Man City not having to cough up an extra penny.
This move feels like a step too far in a relationship that is already at breaking point and fans simply aren’t having it. With unemployment spiralling and the UK in recession for the first time in over a decade, not to mention the continuing threat to the health of the nation, such an overtly and cynically capitalist move has caused widespread fury and will now push football fans towards taking other measures, with a well known illegal streaming service trending on Twitter on Friday.
Premier League greed has never been more stark and with the twenty top flight clubs collectively spending over £1 billion in the transfer window, despite many lamentable chairmen and chief-executives laughably pleading poverty, many lower league clubs are facing a fight for survival. It is a fight that some, such as Bury and Macclesfield, have already lost.
It is worth noting at this point that reportedly the broadcasters will not profit from this move and are merely facilitating the process with all proceeds going directly to the Premier League itself. Yet with studio and staff costs inevitably required for them to be able to provide the service, it is fanciful to suggest that they won’t receive any compensation and will, of course, make a killing from the additional advertising.
It also seems to have been announced at an extremely cynical moment, after the most entertaining weekend of Premier League football in living memory, the high point of a thrilling season so far. Indeed, while the stock of the division is at its highest point since the Coronavirus began, league chiefs have obviously decided that we will no longer be treated to the product for no additional charge. Why reward fans with a chargeable commodity for free?
The irony is that it didn’t have to be like this. If the cost had been set at a reasonable price, perhaps £4.99 a game, the reaction would have been far more muted. However, by charging such an extortionate fee the viewing public have truly been blindsided and have met the announcement with cold fury.
Premier League pay per view has truly driven a wedge through the cracks in the heart of English football and with players and clubs getting richer while the average fan continues to suffer, it seems a matter of time until a more permanent divide occurs.
Perhaps the money men at the heart of the game have begun to question whether fans are required at games at all, with matchday revenue counting for as little as 9.5% of overall turnover for clubs like Manchester City. If the Premier League pay per view proves a success then why have fans back in stadiums at all when you can also make huge savings on the costs of running and operating the stadium?
Such a move would be extremely foolish, however, as many people are simple not enjoying football anywhere near as much without fans in stadiums, regardless of how many goals are flying in. The notion that fans will return in droves once the stadiums reopen shouldn’t be considered a given.
With Man City chief executive Ferran Sorriano opportunistically using the moment to tout the widely loathed idea of Premier League B teams once more, it now seems inevitable until the idea of a European Super League rears its ugly head again as well. After all, if money is truly the only end game then why travel to Burnley and Sheffield when you can go to Madrid and Turin?
Perhaps this is a huge overreaction to a temporary measure and in a year’s time, once normality has returned, we will look back and laugh. It doesn’t feel like it, however, and has the sense of a defining moment in the relationship between the Premier League and the fans.
All is not lost though and the supporters who had their say on football’s usage of the furlough scheme can do so again by staying well away from Premier League pay per view.
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