In football, the Sky’s the limit. But the phrase may well destroy the game as we know it. Sky has dominated the football calendar for the past 24 years.
The self-proclaimed ‘home of football’ since its inception has been mostly unrivalled, but since the emergence of BT Sport, a shock winner of the shared rights with Sky, in 2013, the ‘home of football’ has come under threat. BT’s coverage has been hugely successful, something its predecessors failed in. But that brings about a huge problem. By moving alongside Sky’s coverage, the bidding for the Premier League rights has escalated into a money-driven war that benefits only the top clubs.
BT and Sky paid £5.14bn for the live TV rights of the Premier League from this season until 2018/19. Consequently, clubs from England’s top tier will be receiving roughly £81m a year, from TV deals alone.
Even relegated clubs will receive £62m instalments, paid over four years. League One and Two clubs receive a fraction of what those above are getting. Portsmouth and Bolton Wanderers will feel particularly hard done by, seeing as their stints in the Premier League were before the bidding ‘war’ began. Although both clubs received tens of millions at the time, their individual demises into the Football League now see them receive £360,000 and £240,000 per year, respectively. Minute in comparison.
Despite a commitment to giving £56m a year to grassroots football, this is still not enough to convince football league fans that with Sky, the future is anything other than bleak. In late September, there were nine days of consecutive live football, across BT and Sky, starting with Manchester United’s 4-1 win versus Leicester, and taking in the UEFA competitions, as well as Friday Night Football mid-week, and finishing with ‘Super Sunday.’ In that time, only two EFL games, both from the Championship, were shown. In fact, in those two, all three of last year’s relegated clubs, Norwich City, Aston Villa and Newcastle United, were featured. Staggeringly, it could have been ten days straight if Sky chose a game for Monday Night Football. So in 2016, we’ve finally hit saturation point. Gone are the days where there are no live games for an entire weekend, and gone are the times that local football teams were worth as much to the community as the local park. You just have to look at the recent attendances of the newly restructured EFL Trophy. Now including Premier League clubs’ U21 teams, clubs have done well to reach four figures. At the end of the day, football is not a television show – and that’s something we have to remember, even if Sky try to convince us otherwise.
By Matt Jones