Let’s face it. The Premier League has, in a way, always been pay-per-view. It’s not like the Sky Sports channels (and more recently BT Sport) have ever been free to watch.
Yet, the broadcasters’ latest move, to force viewers to dish out £14.95 to watch “extra games”, has caused uproar. And rightly so.
I get the business model behind it. I even understand the broadcasters’ argument.
Put simply, Sky and BT Sport have signed a contract to show a pre-agreed number of live games per season. They then sell their packages to customers based on that number.
Remember when you signed up to your package? Those numbers that you probably ignored, which both Sky and BT had plastered on their marketing? BT Sport was shouting from the rooftops that it would show “58 Premier League games per season”. In Sky’s case, the number was 128 (if memory serves).
Sky and BT argue that their contract with us, the customers, covers those games. And those games only. It’s what they had put on the tin when we reached for it on the shelf and decided to buy it. Anything above and beyond those 58 & 128 games would, from Sky and BT’s point of view, constitute “giving their product away for free”. Offering us another, extra tin, if you like.
So why are we complaining? We still get the games we paid for? We still have that first tin? It’s not like anything has been taken away from us?
Is it not?
Covid has meant that there is, at the time of writing, no prospect of us being allowed back into the stadiums to see our teams live. For hundreds of thousands of football fans up and down the country, an important part of life has been put on hold.
So yes, Sky and BT. Something has been taken away from us.
When we signed up for the TV packages, the government was telling us that fans would be able to get back into the grounds in October. Test events were being held and they had been going well. We were all set. We understood that stadiums weren’t allowed to be at full capacity – but a rotational system was being discussed, which would have meant everyone had at least a chance, a promise, of getting in.
Now, as the country faces a second wave (oh, how I’m sick of that term) and is returning to tighter restrictions, we are back to square one. No fans in stadiums for the foreseeable future.
This means that we are exactly where we were when the last few rounds of games of the 2019-20 season got back underway after lockdown. At the time, we were treated to every single game being televised. It was a generous gesture and it was appreciated. Sky and BT accrued a lot of goodwill and “moral capital” from their decision.
In hindsight, perhaps they did themselves no favours. We were given a false sense of them actually caring about their customers.
People pay a lot of money to see those 128 & 58 games. Personally, I dish out £50+ a month for the pleasure.
I’m sure both BT and Sky have noticed that there is a bit of a crisis going on at the moment. People are being made redundant. Companies are closing. Hell, entire cities are being forced to close. Just ask Andy Burnham or Joe Anderson. Apparently kids aren’t worthy of food either.
Oh, and people are still dying.
And here are BT and Sky, seeing an opportunity to cash in on something that brings a bit of respite to a huge number of people – which is to switch off the outside world and watch your team play football for 90 minutes.
Personally, in a long history of questionable decisions by our two main sports broadcasters, introducing PPV ranks high on the list.
I agree with Kieran Maguire, a football finance expert who I heard speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live when the PPV plan was first announced.
Maguire predicted that it will lead to fans watching games on illegal streams. "It is going to drive people towards piracy," he said.
Some pirates were Robin Hood-type characters. They stole from the rich and gave to the poor.
I’m not advocating anyone watching illegal streams. That’s everyone’s personal choice. But until Sky and BT give their heads a good shake and come to their senses – or even better, until we are allowed back in the grounds – I suggest we act out the second stage of benevolent piracy. Give to the poor.
Rather than hand over our money to the already rich, how about we make a difference at the other end of the scale? Rather than drop £14.95 into the bottomless coffers of the broadcasters, what if we find a local charity, a foodbank or a community group that is finding times tough – and hand our £14.95 over to them.
Personally, that’s what I’m doing. I’m telling Sky and BT that they can keep their second tin. I’m fine with what I’ve got. But what I will do is spend that money on a real tin of something – and give it away for free.
Follow Tom on Twitter @SportsMagTom