Pay-Per-View Premier League: robbing the rich to feed those in need

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On the 12th of October, the Premier League announced a pay-per-view scheme to keep game-day revenue at a sustainable level. This method of maintaining revenue came after 19 of 20 clubs voted in favor of charging fans £14.95 to watch their clubs play from the atmospheric comfort of their own homes.

This move was justified with the suggestion that these pay-per-view games would have been impossible to watch without fans being physically in the stands, an impossibility in the current climate. This came after six months of allowing fans to watch any game for free. Is this U-turn indicative of club greed, or a sign of widespread financial failure?

All sports team rely on matchday revenue to keep them out of financial ruin. Money gained from gamedays has always been important, with the revenue making up 43% of all income in the Premier Leagues inaugural 1992/93 season.

The bulk of the damage to reputation moves away from broadcasters and sits with the clubs who voted to install the policy.

This form of income is valuable to clubs, however the proportionate value of revenue from matchdays has dropped in recent years. Clubs are affected in different ways by this form of income, with Arsenal, for example, taking 25% of its total income in the 2018/19 season from fans on game days. This number, however, significantly exceeds the league average in that season, which sat at only 13% of total Premier League income.

This drop in relative importance of game day revenue has been replaced by lucrative sponsorship, advertising and broadcasting deals. Despite this, the income given by fans remains important to clubs and is by no means any less relevant. From the 1992/93 season to the 2018/19 season, wage bills have risen 2,811%, meaning that every penny counts.

There is, therefore, some logic to charging additional fees to watch games. The scheme so far, while unpopular among many, has exceeded expectations and has kept clubs afloat. Despite pundit Gary Neville claiming on Sky Sports that the pay-per-view system is “finished” as “no one is paying for it”, over the first nine games, the average buying figures have been around 39,000. This figure is slightly over the average attendance of the 2018/19 season which sat at 38,168 spectators.

Neville’s employers have sided with him, and with the fans. In Fact, Sky, BT and Amazon have all condemned the pay-per-view system, raising concerns over the potential damage to their reputation that may occur as a result of pay-per-view. Their concerns, however, are partially unjust. The bulk of the damage to reputation moves away from broadcasters and sits with the clubs who voted to install the policy.

By boycotting games, fans have spent their money on charity instead.

The scheme has helped to keep football teams and their players afloat at the cost of tarnishing the relationship between the clubs and their fans. SPORTbible has estimated that the cost of watching every Premier League this season would be £3399, a figure which includes the necessary subscription costs. This sum is a lot of money for anyone, but, for some, £14.95 is too much money. Those who have been trying to support their team on a shoe-string budget have been alienated by the club they love at a time when entertainment is so valuable and so rare. The move switches focus away from an individual’s devotion to their club and onto their wallet.

While big clubs have been portrayed as the villains, the fans have most certainly come out as the heroes. By boycotting games, fans have spent their money on charity instead. A growing total of £300,000 has been raised for those who are less fortunate. Liverpool fans have donated £120,000 to food banks, with fans from Newcastle and Leeds also raising sizeable donations.

Whether donations are wholly altruistic or a form of protest, which shows the best of humanity, those who are less fortunate have been helped significantly by the pay-per-view system.  That is not to say clubs should be attributed with any of the credit, but it does show that positivity can come from poor situations.

The charging of fans to watch games from home may be a necessary evil. No one wants to see the team they support go into financial ruin, but many are also unwilling or unable to spend £14.95 to stay at home and watch a game. Newcastle owner, Mike Ashley, has suggested reducing the price to £4.95, a £10 reduction that could help bring joy back to football. While games cannot always be free in the money-driven world of professional football, a reduction in the price of pay-per-view may help to close the gap between clubs and their fans.

Image: homegets.com via Creative Commons

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