Pay-per-view offer is no deal for fans

Fans of Premier League clubs are rightly angered by the latest announcement to charge £14.95 to view matches.

Leicester City apparently the sole vote of reason

By Steve Moulds

Back in August at a supporters’ engagement meeting, the Premier League (PL) executive were surprised at the anger expressed by fans’ groups (amongst them a Foxes Trust (FT) delegate) that they had no plan to televise all matches being played behind-closed-doors. PL’s reasoning was that doing so would cost them more than the £700m they had lost at the end of the previous season. The PL also appeared genuinely unaware of the bad feeling and publicity this would create with football fans, many of whom were stumping up hundreds of pounds in season ticket fees for the privilege of not watching their team play.

This led to campaigning by the FSA, Trusts (such as FT) and other fans groups, resulting in the PL agreeing to broadcast all matches at the start of the 20/21 season.  Just when we thought this was a reason to celebrate a victory for fan power, the PL turns around and makes yet another decision without consulting fans. Unsurprisingly (except to the majority of the PL Board), Friday’s announcement has provoked a huge backlash and not just from fans. The widely respected journalist, Henry Winter of the Times, posted on twitter: “£14.95 to watch a game on pay per view is disgraceful. £5, ok, but £14.95? It’s disgusting. At a time when PL clubs spent £1.2bn on players. When they’ll give agents £200m. When so many families are struggling. The creed of greed is in @premierleague DNA but this truly stinks”.

However, let us for a moment take a step back from the hype. Yes, it is positive that the PL and clubs recognised that fans need to be able to watch their teams play, but the proposal is flawed in so many ways.

Firstly, it is not clear how the £14.95 price point was arrived at.  Press briefings suggest that the PL thought £14.95 was a reasonable price to pay for their ‘superior’ product compared with EFL coverage at £10 per game. What they fail to recognise is that watching on TV is an inferior experience for regular match-going fans.

Fans groups have never argued that this service should be free – clearly there is a cost involved – but the price of £14.95 per game is too high. And because it is too high, it could have damaging effects, which fans’ groups have raised with the PL.  There is an impact on individual’s finances at a time when many are stretched, encouraging use of illegal streams and encouraging people to gather to watch games together, risking the spread of Covid-19.

The pay-per-view plan also penalises fans of those clubs less likely to be selected for the regular broadcast schedule. They will have to pay more to watch their team than fans of the so-called glamour clubs.

A cheaper price point would not only have been fairer, it would have had more chance of expanding the audience and generating more income. And it would have shown that the Premier League is aware of the situation outside its own wealthy bubble.

Other considerations that should surely have been taken on board by the PL would be having cheaper access for Season Ticket holders or ring-fencing some or all of the funds raised to support lower tiers of football.  Either would have been more reasonable and would have provided some sense that the PL ‘get it’ concerning how they are viewed as a business by fans, by the media and by Government.  But none of these factors were thought of.  The PL simply, so it seems, does not ‘get it’.

It has been widely reported in the press that the only PL club voting against the plans was Leicester City, with The Athletic stating “with Susan Whelan, the Leicester City chief executive said to have spoken “passionately” against the proposals” If this was the case, it can give us some hope that somewhere in the higher echelons of football there are still those who have consideration for the humble football fan, and who don’t just see them as cash cows. After all, what does £700m – or £35m per club – get you these days, the price of promising young defender? 

Leicester City have been open to dialogue with FT about various aspects relating to pricing and other matters since the pandemic began – albeit not on the specific question of this pay per view plan.  FT has conveyed our view as to how fans might react to different proposals.  If there is one small positive to come out of this poor PL proposal, it is that dialogue about what fans think can sometimes make a difference to a clubs decisions, although in this case it seems only our club was truly listening.

We ask the Premier League and the media companies involved to quickly re-consider the pricing before the PPV games commence.