Opinion

Published on February 11th, 2016 | by Stephen Kilbey

Premier League needs to go with the flow on streaming

Anyone serious about watching American sports in Europe these days, will have become used to streaming games via subscriptions packages, which allow fans of both big and small teams to access every game live and on-demand for a yearly fee.

It’s only going getting bigger and increasingly fitting to the busy life of a modern-day sports fan.

When I first discovered the joys of American sports, I started watching the NHL (National Hockey League) back in 2004, all I could see was one game a week on Channel 4 through the night on a Wednesday. As a fan of the Carolina Hurricanes – a relatively small franchise –  that meant I could only see one, maybe two games a year.

Nowadays, and only a few years after I fell in love with the sport, for roughly the price of a couple of DVDs a month during the season, I can see all the games, and every post-season game involving not only the Hurricanes, but every team live and on-demand via streaming.

Not only that, but it’s available not just on my laptop, but on almost every device I own that can connect to the internet.

One sport, multiple devices

I now watch NHL plus NFL, MLB, College Sports and the NBA in my room, on the train, in the car, on my TV via a streaming box and while I’m abroad; all for one price, using one service for each sport.

“It’s expensive, time-consuming and at times downright confusing. What’s worse, I can’t even see the full games!”

Watching the Hurricanes has never been easier; and it’s the same with all the major professional American sports and who year-on-year expand on their already versatile streaming services.

On the flipside, watching my BPL team Tottenham Hotspur seems way too difficult for a sports fan in 2015.

Unable to see every game in full, I, and most other fans who choose to watch their teams legally find ourselves having to constantly juggle between BT Sport, Sky Sports and the BBC’s Match of the Day to see our teams each week during the season.

It’s expensive, time-consuming and at times downright confusing. What’s worse, I can’t even see the full games!

It baffles me that those of us who don’t have the time or money to see live games often should have to go through so much to see our team each week.

UK Premier League fans are forced to watch 3pm games from the stands

The only way to see every Spurs home game is to be at White Hart Lane

A successful trial

“It was amazing,” said Daniel Greear, a Washington Redskins fan living in Virginia after the Bills-Jaguars game at Wembley Stadium last October.

The NFL made the game available for free via Yahoo! to a global audience, broadcasting it over the internet for the first time.

It enticed millions of fans who would normally watch the NFL on TV to try a new way of watching the sport without having to pay.

“Usually I watch games on TV, but being able to access a high-quality broadcast on my phone and tablet made the experience of watching a game that didn’t matter as much to me extremely convenient.

“Does it make me want to pay for an NFL Gamepass subscription to see the ‘Skins as well as all the other games I don’t usually watch on a Sunday? Absolutely, if I can watch them anywhere, it’ll make my lunch break at work fun during the season.”

The viewing figures were staggering. Across the world, a game between two teams that didn’t make the playoff, had 15.6 million viewers online. 33% of them, came from fans outside of the USA. (According to Yahoo! Sports’ public data)

“The current Premier League TV deal is both lucrative and restrictive”

This, for the league’s first attempt at mass-streaming was extremely encouraging and has sparked a bidding war to secure streaming rights between Apple, Verizon, Yahoo!, Microsoft and AT&T. The price for the Thursday Night Games – which are touted to be the first big prospects for free-streaming going into next season – are therefore likely to be high.

“The streaming quality is fantastic,” said Marcelo Fujimoto, a Cleveland Browns fan who watched the Bills game in São Paulo, Brazil on Twitter. “It’s just like watching a game on TV.”

Easier said than done?

In the UK, the current BPL TV deal is both lucrative and restrictive. For one, Sky and BT are paying between £7m and £10m for the rights to each live game, and unless they got a piece of the pie for a very small fee, wouldn’t be interested in someone cannibalising their viewing figures.

“Outside the UK, Premier League coverage continues to expand, leaving its home market – where it is most popular – behind”

The FA also want to encourage people to attend the games not shown during primetime. This is a totally different issue though. No 3pm games on a Saturday are televised domstically due to a fear that attendance figures will be hit. Instead, in an average week, just six BPL games are shown on TV, out of a possible 20.

The NFL created a similar system known as the ‘Blackout Rule’ during the mid-00s, meaning each team wouldn’t be broadcast in its own market if the the game didn’t sell out (the rest of the country still saw it however).

However, a couple of years ago, the NFL eliminated the rule and found that, according to Colin Cowherd’s investigation on Fox Sports Radio: “Attendance only dropped a couple of percent. It was a similar sort of fluctuation that happens each year anyway.”

Flexible

Across the world, outside the UK, Premier League coverage continues to expand, leaving its home market – where it is most popular – behind.

” I long for the day I can sit down at 3pm on a Saturday and watch Harry Kane play without a ticket to the game…”

“I can watch every Premier League game, on every device, and I get all sorts of pre- and post-game coverage,” explains Jake Swann from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“It works perfectly, as it’s on in the morning before other major sports start. I’ve adopted a team off the back of it. American coverage is both flexible and entertaining.”

Some 3,000 miles away from Lambeau Field, I can see every moment of the Green Bay Packers season. Four miles from White Hart Lane, I can see one Spurs game every two weeks if I’m lucky.

It’s a shame. I long for the day I can sit down at 3pm on a Saturday and watch Harry Kane play without a ticket to the game…

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