The Premier League and broadcasters will come under increasing fire this week with the growing realisation that fans in the UK will be shut out from viewing hundreds of Premier League games this season, even though they are still banned from stadia, with only limited numbers of supporters possibly allowed back in October.
Even though there are no fans allowed in grounds in September and the possibility of reduced capacities all season, the Premier League has only made provision for 20 extra live games this season, taking the total to 220, shared between Sky, BT and Amazon. But that still leaves 160 games which will not be live on TV in the UK.
The Labour Party is calling for all games to be streamed in some form and whilst the Government is currently focusing all its efforts on fans returning to games in October, with test events next month, they may have make a fresh intervention to force the Premier League into a U turn.
The Football Supporters’ Association, which has already launched its Sustain the Game campaign, highlighting the financial issues caused by poor governance in the lower leagues which have been exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis, is likely to begin campaigning on this topic next week.
With the first round of live TV games set to be announced this week, Kat Law of the Tottenham Hotspurs Supporters’ Trust said: ‘I find it incredible that the Premier League, the broadcasters and the clubs would shut out their core audience in this way. For fans in the UK not to be able to watch their team when you could watch that game anywhere else in the world, apart from North Korea and Saudi Arabia, is crazy.
‘Extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary measures. As fans, we are pragmatic. We realise broadcasters paid for a set deal that has a value attributed to it and we realise that the Premier League and the clubs have lost a significant amount of money due to the pandemic. We’re not asking for a freebie. If there was a reasonable price they wanted to charge us, most fans would pay. So I’m really struggling to understand what the block is here.’
The Premier League is in danger of appearing inflexible and dismissive of match-going fans given that the EFL is working with Sky to deliver a streaming service for fans if games aren’t being televised live.
The Mail on Sunday understands that, having paid a £330m rebate to broadcasters because last season was disrupted, some clubs are worried about making any change to current broadcasting arrangements in case it opens them up to claims for another rebate. The Premier League is also careful not to over expose its product.
It took Government to force the broadcasters and Premier League to permit free-to-air games when the season resumed in June and to ensure all games were shown on TV. Whilst free-to-air matches are no longer on the agenda, it may take another intervention from Culture Minister Oliver Dowden to make Premier League clubs and broadcaster compromise to allow season-ticket holders to stream matches which aren’t on TV.
‘The current position is incredibly short sighted and I’m hoping broadcasters, the Premier League and the clubs will get round a table and come up with a solution without the need for the Government to tell them to do it,’ said Law.
‘That’s not a good look because it still means that they haven’t appreciated how absolutely fundamental watching your team is to being a supporter.’
If there is no change, it inevitably drive many fans to illegal streams of the international broadcasts and runs the risk of pubs, which stream illegal feeds, hosting crowded events on matchdays in contravention of coronavirus rules.
Fans’ groups are incredulous that the seemingly inflexible stance to shut out loyal match-going supporters comes after the Premier League and broadcaster spent much of the past six months insisting how important fans were to the whole spectacle.
Indeed, part of the £330 rebate was understood to be because the product was no longer as attractive without fans in the stadium and it was hoped that might have heralded a new era in liaising with fans and taking their needs into account.