The main Premier League TV packages have just been sold to Sky and BT in a deal that runs to the end of the 2021/22 season. So it looks like football on TV will remain largely unchanged: with increasing worries about the betting ads that are punctuating every game, is that necessarily a good thing?
If Super Sunday – or Monday Night Football – is an integral part of your life then you can relax. Sky will carry on giving you your weekly fix. In fact, the shape of football on TV looks set to remain largely unchanged for the next few seasons. Earlier this week it was announced that Sky and BT Sport will pay £4.46bn to the Premier League clubs for the rights to the five main TV packages, covering the three seasons from kick-off in August 2019 to the presentation of the trophy in May 2022.
Sky will be paying £3.58bn over the three years of the deal and has the right to 128 matches per season, including all the prime time games. There is also a new slot – 7:45 pm on Saturday night. Yes, you would want to be a Southampton fan starting the long journey back from Newcastle at 10 pm on Saturday night…
Premier League is still the world’s richest
The deal secures the Premier League’s place as the world’s richest football league – the rights to Germany’s Bundesliga, for example, were sold for significantly less. That is easy to understand: you cannot see that Hoffenheim vs Wolfsburg will have quite the pull in China that Liverpool vs. Man United does.
So Manchester City will continue to spend more on defence than many small countries – and you will not get much change out of £15m, even for an average left back.
What about other broadcasters?
There had been much talk of Amazon and Facebook bidding for some of the games. Two minor packages remain – including an experiment by the Premier League where all 10 matches can be broadcast simultaneously – and while BT remains ‘interested’ in that package it could be that Amazon will dip a toe in the water.
How does the price of football compare to other programmes on TV?
The price Sky is paying per Premiership game has fallen slightly – it is down by 16% to £9.3m a game – but it is still a significant amount. After all, they need to add in costs of transmission, cameramen and paying Graham Sounness and Thierry Henry to sit in the studio discussing whether it was a penalty… Well, that is an awful lot of money to pay for Bournemouth vs. Huddersfield (with no disrespect to the fans of either club).
How does that compare to the cost of other shows? There will not be a person reading this who has not ‘binge-watched’ a TV series at some point. My wife watched the first series of Taboo – the one starring Tom Hardy in the funny hat – in one day. It is rumoured that the series cost £10.4m to make. Meanwhile, American TV executives talk freely of future episodes of blockbuster series like House of Cards costing $15-20m each. But those programmes are watched by millions: why is Sky prepared to spend so much when the average number of viewers at the start of this season was 819,000 per game?
And that takes us on to betting…
Sky are prepared to pay so much because they work on a subscription model – if I do not want to watch Bournemouth vs. Huddersfield it does not matter, I have already paid – because they sell the games around the world, and because the Premiership delivers a highly targeted audience to advertisers. Increasingly, it seems, it is an audience that likes to bet, and those advertisers are bookmakers.
50% of the teams in the Premier League wear shirts sponsored by gambling companies, from Ope Sports, paying Huddersfield £1.5m a season to Sport Pesa’s £9.6m deal with Everton. These figures pale into insignificance compared to the £53m Chevrolet pay Manchester United or £40m Chelsea get for having Yokohama (tyres) plastered across their chests. They do, however, indicate the inextricable link between sport on TV – especially football – and gambling.
A recent report in the Sunday Times suggested that some clubs in the Premiership are using young players (below the legal age for gambling) to promote betting activities. There are any number of academic studies highlighting the dangers of young people being exposed to gambling ads and – even more worryingly – plenty of the current crop of ads feature alcohol as an integral part of the ‘watch the game, have a bet’ experience.
The UK’s increasing numbers of problem gamblers
The number of problem gamblers in the UK is now put at 400,000 – with up to 2m ‘at risk’ of developing the habit. No-one is suggesting that all of these people are betting solely on Premier League football, but the constant stream of ads cannot help. A recent report in the Guardian suggested that the UK had 25,000 problem gamblers between the ages of 11 and 16. Football is by no means the main cause of the problem: video games and social media must shoulder a bigger slice of the blame. But the beautiful game – or the administrators of the beautiful game and the owners of the clubs – seems prepared to turn a blind eye to the problem.
With the exception of saying ‘when the fun stops, stop’ gambling ads seem a free for all, with mobile technology giving the firms the chance to promote bets which are emphatically not in the customer’s favour.
Alcohol advertising cannot give the impression that alcohol can make you more confident or more attractive to the opposite sex. By contrast, placing a bet means that you are intelligent, shrewd, good at maths, have more fun with your mates. And that attractive girl who has come round to your flat for the evening? Listen to some music? Have a coffee? Do not be ridiculous. She wants nothing more than to bet on the correct score and watch the game…