Although it was unsuccessful in having the bidding round for Premier League rights for the seasons 2016-2019 delayed, UK quad-play operator Virgin Media is calling on research it has commissioned to back up its Ofcom complaint regarding the joint selling arrangements for live, UK audio-visual media rights for Premier League football matches.
According to what is claimed is the most detailed research yet on attitudes to televised football by Kantar Media, on behalf of international economic consultancy Oxera. football fans are increasingly priced out of watching matches at home.
The research, undertaken after Ofcom opened a formal investigation into the way in which the Premier League conducts its live TV rights auction, found that cost was the overwhelming reason people have cancelled a sports TV subscription in the past five years (68 per cent). Among interested fans, 83 per cent said the price was preventing them from subscribing.
A third of existing sports TV viewers (33 per cent) say they are now struggling to pay for their subscription. Of these, almost one in five has borrowed money or sold items to cover the costs of following their team on TV.
The average amount people must pay to watch top flight English football on TV has soared since 2009 when BT and Sky secured the rights. In 2014 alone, Sky raised the price of Sky Sports 10 per cent and BT increased home phone and broadband charges 6.5 per cent in a move dubbed a ‘football tax’ by consumer experts.
The new record £5.1 billion spent by BT and Sky on Premier League TV rights for 2016 to 2019 was 71 per cent more than they paid previously. Analysts predict prices will go up another 8 per cent next season as broadcasters begin to recoup some of the vast sums they have paid. However, less than one in ten subscribers (9 per cent) would consider switching between BT Sport and Sky Sports to avoid a price rise as fans do not see these channels as alternatives.
Despite paying over the odds, viewers are not getting what they want
More than a third (37 per cent) of sports TV viewers currently subscribe to both Sky Sports and BT Sports, giving them access to every Premier League game that is broadcast. However, even among these fans, 41 per cent want to see more matches. Two thirds (64 per cent) want to watch games shown on both BT Sport and Sky Sports channels. Almost half (48 per cent) want to watch every match involving the team they support.
According to Brigitte Trafford, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Virgin Media, said that British fans pay the most in Europe to watch football on TV and were not even getting all the matches they want. “Too many people feel they now have to choose between basic essentials and watching the game they love. If action is not taken to change the way the Premier League sells TV rights, the rapidly rising cost of watching football at home will see even more people priced out of the national sport,” she warned.