Why it’s time for Ofcom to red card the rising cost of watching live football on TV

 
Tom Mockridge
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It’s time for Ofcom to hold a red card to the Premier League and the way it sells TV football (Source: Getty)
The ever-increasing cost of watching Premier League matches on live TV is hitting fans where it hurts. UK fans pay at least twice as much to watch half the games as fans in Europe. In Germany, France, Spain and Italy, all their live games are available to watch at a much lower cost than in the UK.

Research commissioned by Virgin Media reveals that fans believe they are getting a raw deal from this situation. More than three quarters of those surveyed believe that they pay too much to watch live football.

Put simply, football is fast becoming out of reach for fans in the very country which gave the world the beautiful game. The problem is the way the Premier League sells the TV rights exclusively, most recently to Sky and BT.

Economics would usually dictate that two competitors going head to head would work to the benefit of consumers. That doesn’t seem to have been the case in the battle for the exclusive rights to broadcast live Premier League football.

The Premier League doesn’t allow all the football games to be broadcast live on TV. This means that UK fans are unable to watch all the games. And the price of the TV rights has skyrocketed, which ultimately hits the pockets of fans.

In the last auction, held in February for three years’ worth of TV rights, only 168 live games per season were up for grabs in the UK out of 380 games played in total. Sky forked out £4.2bn for 126 games per season and BT scooped up the remaining 42 games for £960m. In the US, meanwhile, all 380 games are available to watch. This means that football fans living in the States can enjoy more live Premier League football on TV than those in the UK.

Furthermore, these games were won on an exclusive basis, meaning that fans either have to buy BT and Sky packages separately, or subscribe to a Virgin Media bundle.

Just look at the facts: in 2006, £1.7bn bought three seasons of live football for fans to watch. Earlier this year, Sky and BT signed up to pay £1.7bn for just one year’s worth of football on TV. At this rate, football will soon be out of reach for all but the privileged few.

Like me, you are probably wondering if there is a better deal for football fans. There is.

At Virgin Media, we’re proud to be the only place that fans can watch all the games that are broadcast. But because we buy the rights from BT and Sky, the eye-popping sums paid mean that, in the end, it’s the consumer who foots the bill.

It has been one year since media watchdog Ofcom acted on our complaint and launched its investigation into the way the Premier League auctions exclusive rights to broadcast live football on TV.

We are convinced there has to be a better way for football, for fans and for business. It’s now time for Ofcom to hold a red card to the Premier League and the way it sells TV football.

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