Where next for football on TV? More of the same, more of the same.

by Tony Attwood

In the UK we get most of our football on TV via four channels: the BBC, which is free to air and covers occasional live games but mostly focusses on highlights after the match, ITV which at the moment focuses on international games, Sky and BT Sport – these last two being subscription services which offer live games.

But then along came Amazon with a new plan – cover every match over a short period live.

Now this was of interest to those of us engaged with Untold Arsenal because  back in March 2015, three of us had a discussion which included the notion that it ought to be possible to have every Premier League game shown live on TV without it affecting the crowds much.

And that took a little step further forward last year when Amazon came to the League with a bid to show all the matches over a few days on their Amazon Prime channel.   This being the time for getting together and similar fun (ie Christmas) I only watched one such match – the Arsenal game – but they were all there for anyone who really had nothing much else to do.

It was, in terms of British TV, a revolutionary moment, and yet within that moment something rather strange happened.   Amazon, which could have made an amazing statement about how it was going to handle football in a new way, having the benefit of seeing what the other channels had done with it over the years, asked BT Sport to be its agent.   So to all intents and purposes it was a BT Sport show, but shown on Amazon Prime.  The chance for change was thrown away.

The programming was thus nothing other than a clear statement that said, “We think BT sport is ok in terms of the way it is packaging and showing football” or put another way, “There’s nothing new to offer”.  Or indeed “Nothing new to see here. Move along move along.”

Why would they do this.  Normally when one channel sets up to rival another it offers something new to attract the audience, but Amazon offered exactly the same as was happening already.

It was a clear statement that what the channels that cover football in England are doing is fine.  The topics they touch on (for example, “what that handball?”) are fine.   The topics they avoid (for example, “the northern referee is giving a lot more cards to the London  team than he is to the northern team”) need to be avoided.

And above all the notion that there is one key vision that can be used to sum up this match and all matches that are shown is that football is great, the PL is great, and it is going to get greater and greater so we can charge you, the viewer, more and more and more to watch it.  AND THERE WILL BE NO CONTROVERSY.

Thus the opportunity of bringing in a new TV company that might decide (to pick an example) to put a camera on the referee all the time, and to consider how far he is from each major decision, and keep a tally of every decision, is not going to be considered.

Nor will we have a list of the number of fouls awarded against each player, and the number of yellow against each player, and then see which referee is doing what and if it is justified.

And this is not because statistics are difficult to follow, as BT Sport has told us in the past.  But because from the TV station’s point of view, there is no reason to consider the activities of the referee.  They are all doing a fine job and there is no difference between them.

So I sit here and wonder: was the bid from Amazon which allowed it to get these rights, accompanied by a note that said there would be no mention of PGMO, no analysis of the referee?

In short, is there any competition of the type that we like to think normally exists.  I think not.

I suspect that a fundamental part of the activity of PGMO is the suppression of the notion that anything in refereeing could ever be different.  I suspect it was the first thing Amazon were told when they went to the League with their offer.

Which is interesting, because anywhere else in British industry and business, the Competition and Markets Authority would be all over this asking for an answer to the question: why are you all doing the same thing?

Because normally these ultra-competitive TV companies all seek to outdo each other.  But with football, not a chance.


18 Replies to “Where next for football on TV? More of the same, more of the same.”

  1. I haven’t watched any Amazon coverage and would be reluctant to do so. However, I heard that they had made one change to normal coverage in that you could turn off the commentators and simply hear the crowd. I often watch televised football with no sound at all as I find so much of the commentary either inane (Glen Hoddle for instance) or annoying.

  2. The Guardian has put out a piece on Chelsea finances :


    I do wonder how this squares off with FFP rules. Basically the owner, through a set-up of companies, has injected 247 millions last year and 69.1 million pounds the year before. As an accountant it just means the club is losing money (96 millions last year) and not able to finance it’s investments on its own, or am I wrong ?

    Or is an influx of money from the owner acceptable, which basically means FFP does not exist anymore and I was not aware of it ?

  3. I think it’s the same again from Amazon for the next two seasons, and after that who knows what to expect? I’d say that they are in a position to outbid any other TV company for Premier League coverage and if that were the case then I’d be happy to watch for just my Prime subscription, but I doubt if they’d let me get away with it a cheaply as that.
    I enjoyed their coverage and watched four games all told and thought that this was a bit of a toe dipping exercise by the look of it, and I’d expect changes if they got the whole package with no competion at all from Sky or BT.

  4. I also long for televised games with the option of crowd only sound with no commentary.

  5. As for me, I prefer to watch football matches on the TV with the commentaries ON running. Even if the match commentators are bias against one of the two clubs in action say for instance Arsenal as often is the case when TV commentators are running match commentaries in matches involving Arsenal decided to be bias against Arsenal in match commentaries running to be saying the opposite to what had happened in the match which us Gooners are seeing glaringly on the field on the TV set. It’s annoyed me but I do take it as the usual already known media anti-Arsenal campaign in PL football matches.

    Fulltime scores at Old Trafford in the Carabao Cup 1st leg semi-final match read: Manchester United 1-3 Manchester City. This is a pathetic match result outcome for Man Utd on the night who I think will stamp their feet down firmly in the match to beat Man City to start stopping them from reaching the Carabao Cup final again this season in their efforts to win the Cup for a straight 3 season. But will that be another record set by Man City if they win the Cup this season again for a 3rd time running? But Man Utd still have the chance open to them to knockout Man City in the return leg match at the Etihad to stop their excesses to win the Cup for three consecutive Carabao Cup competition seasons.

  6. I always watch with the sound muted. It takes a bit away from the experience as I miss the crowds reaction but when I have the option to listen to the commentators or mute them I will mute them.
    The only time I can really enjoy the match completely is when I have a commentator who speaks russian, chinese or arabic or whatever language I don’t understand

  7. The real change comes if and when Amazon decide to buy all of the FAPL coverage and therefore remove BT Sports and Sky from the equation. I’ve taken the limited roll-out to Amazon as being a test on the part of the FAPL as to whether there is an impact upon attendances from showing multiple games at once. Perhaps I’m mistaken in this assumption.

    I liked Amazon’s coverage on the whole and their interactive features (sound/stats/highlights etc) were very good but then again I don’t subscribe to Sky or BT Sports so can’t compare.

  8. We enjoyed the Amazon Prime coverage, not least to be able to swap the commentators noise for the crowd and stadium atmosphere. We always mute the Sky/BT carping and play loud music. Having the full selection of games was good. One thing that had to be done, was to leave our mobiles in another room, as the slight delay suffered with goal alerts! I’m not sure how the costs would change if Amazon were awarded more matches, but it was a promising start.

  9. @Tony, I think you should just accept it. No point fighting it with insinuations of sinister back dealings by the pgmo or to protect the pgmo. Like you say, a competitor that wants to break into a new market would definitely seek to take advantage of the shortcomings of guys already in the market, not to partner with them. I think if it were possible for you to do a nation wide survey, I would bet that the number of supporters that would subscribe to your suggested changes would not make for worthwhile investment. At the end of the day you might just have to set up untold sports TV to cater for the small portion of the population that would desire such features. For now, I’d say Amazon seems satisfied with the job sky and BT are doing and just want to dip their hands in the honeypot that is the EPL today.

  10. Dr Deb

    Acceptance of possible corruption.

    Acceptance of unaccountability.

    Acceptance of secrecy.

    Acceptance of supposed competitors complicity.

    A bit worrying to hear your willingness to give up and just accept it all.

    I’m glad you’re not my Doctor.

  11. Well @Nitram,
    1.Acceptance of possible corruption? -no evidence
    2. Acceptance of unaccountability? – no evidence
    3. Acceptance of secrecy? -maybe but you haven’t proved other similar organizations run differently. I don’t want to act as devil’s advocate but is pgmo a private or government owned firm?
    4. Acceptance of supposed competitors collusion? – no evidence. Indeed until proven beyond reasonable doubt, I expect competitors to do what their name says -COMPETE. Not collude.
    5. You’re glad I’m not your doc -I’m glad too. Managing reasonable patients is hard enough as it is.
    Cheers man.

  12. deb let’s just take one point: Acceptance of secrecy? -maybe but you haven’t proved other similar organizations run differently. I don’t want to act as devil’s advocate but is pgmo a private or government owned firm?
    OK that is your point of view, but it does not matter whether similar organisations are different. The question is, is PGMO accountable in any normal sense of the word. I certainly can’t see how it is. If you can, please do set out the details.

  13. Deb

    You would be dangerous person to be left in charge of a stethoscope.

    For the sack of humanity I really really hope they don’t let you lose with a scalpel.

  14. @Nitram. Like I earlier said everybody wants to be a doctor these days. I’m not surprised, maybe you want to too. But there’s a perfectly competent organisation charged with deciding whether I’m safe or dangerous. So Mr Nitram, I know you like to do other people’s jobs(you obviously want to do the refs job, that of the ref assessors as well as that of the journalists). However my advice to you is this sir, if you want to be a member of the GMC, you’ll need to go to med school, pass your exams, practice/study through the residency program, earn enough credibility for colleagues to trust you with the office. I guess it’s the same thing with being an EPL ref. You’ve got to go through the training program and work your way up the profession. So instead of being an internet medical certification expert, you could start up something.

    @Tony, you’re right that the right question. But if similar organisations run their association the same way, doesn’t it suggest that your requirement/standard for accountability is not an absolute criteria for their existence? I don’t debate that it is a good suggestion, but I’m of the opinion that if many such organisations are run in this way, there may thus be a reason and without a dialogue/debate between both thought processes, you might not get that reason. That is why I’m satisfied with your saying you’re suspicious but leaving it at that

  15. @nitram, they actually do let me loose with a scalpel. So many times I’m not even willing, but necessity is placed on me to wield it sir. Many times I wish someone like you who is evidently more internet qualified, could relieve me of this burden.

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