Though issues such as the destination of the Premier League trophy, European qualification and months of endless transfer speculation are all to unravel before the 2019-20 campaign kicks off in August – the most lucrative issue marking top-flight English football has been resolved for months.
“Up until now, the main sports rights holders have been BT Sport and Sky, but within a short period of time we’ve seen the introduction of Premier Sports, Eleven Sports and Amazon Prime,” industry analyst Paolo Pescatore explained. “There’s going to be at least five destinations that consumers need to go to get all of their sports needs in the UK.”
While highlighting that previous Premier League rights holders such as ESPN and Setanta Sports have been unable to stay the course, Pescatore believes that Amazon – which will show 20 Premier League matches a season for three years from 2019 – is sufficiently resourced to compete with the likes of BT and Sky for the longer haul.
However, he argues that the demise of former UFC and La Liga rights holder Eleven Sports in the UK yields valuable lessons about having all-encompassing consumer and commercial offers ready to roll.
“Sky has very good relationships with pubs. BT Sport, very early on, focused on insuring it had a good relationship with pubs. This is something the other providers need to work on,” he explains. “If they have growing aspirations to be serious players in the sports broadcasting markets they need to think about specific packages for pubs. Then again, will pubs have the money to take up Amazon Prime for their customers and what added value are they getting?
“There is an opportunity for pubs to reduce the impact of market fragmentation for consumers and say ‘we’ll pay for all of these services’ but how much would that cost over the year?
“Then you have the other complexity in that Sky Sports is delivered in one way, BT Sport is delivered another way, and all the other over-the-top media services are delivered in completely different ways.
“The knock-on effect of that is: do you have one platform that integrates all of these services together and can you rely on the quality of the stream coming in so there’s no buffering, latency, or issue with the quality of the stream?”
MatchPint co-founder Dom Collingwood explained: “The first thing is we really need some clarity from Amazon as to whether or not there will be a commercial subscription available.
“There are a number of ways that could be done. It could be made available through Sky or BT’s boxes and satellite but I find it highly unlikely that will happen. This leaves us in an extraordinary situation where, even if we do have a commercial rights package, you’ve got to think how are you going to show that.
“While the Wi-Fi pubs offer consumers is good enough to browse and go on social media, it’s not good enough to be able to maintain a high-quality HD stream that will run without interruption.
“The thing that sets the pub apart from the home is the quality of experience that our industry offers – bigger screens, better picture quality, better sound, better food, better drink and better atmosphere. If you start to put the quality of that experience at risk through a poor picture quality then, all of a sudden, you’re not able to differentiate yourself from the sofa as well as you previously have done.”
Drawing upon an experience of an ill-fated outing with the MatchPint team to watch England’s Euro 2016 meltdown against Iceland at a pub streaming the action via BBC iPlayer, Collingwood explains that a poor viewing experience could be fatal for operators.
“First of all, because the match was being streamed, it was about 90 seconds behind the live feed, so when England scored the first goal we heard the celebration of the goal in the pub next door – so we knew what was going to happen.
“Then the pub had issues with its Wi-Fi so you started having ‘buffering’ of the game to the extent that we actually missed Iceland’s first goal. It’s fair to say we have not even thought about going back to that pub again because we had such a poor experience.”
Yet, despite logistical difficulties, Collingwood argues that the 2019-20 Premier League season offers pubs a unique stage to differentiate themselves from the sofa.
“There is a really exciting opportunity with some of the rights next year because, for the first time, there are two rounds of fixtures where you’re going to have every single game televised at the same time,” he explained.
“If you think about how you’re differentiating yourself from the home, nobody has 10 laptops, but pubs do have the opportunity to show two or three games at the same time and really create an atmosphere around a massive night of football.
“Then, of course, the other major change is the introduction of Saturday night games at 7.45pm. I’m very sceptical about the likely impact of that on-trade. Saturday is a natural high footfall occasion for the on-trade so I’m not sure that it’s going to be driving people in. It might be keeping them for a little longer but, of course, you don’t want to do that in a way that cannibalises your existing Saturday night trade and so pub companies and pubs will need to think really carefully about how they split their venues.
The ultimate social experience
However, despite the huge growth of streaming services and endless speculation over that final form a ‘Netflix of sports’ will take, Collingwood believes that the pub experience remains a unique one.
“There is a distinction between following sport and experiencing sport, and there is more sport available to follow than ever before,” he explains.
“Our belief is that watching sport with friends is the ultimate social experience – it’s unscripted, it’s dramatic, it pulls people together, you turn around and hug tubby, balding men in their 50s that you’ve never met before – that is not going to change for major events. If you look at the 2018 World Cup there were extraordinary results in the trade.
“The opportunity to watch things online has been around for a long time and, for major events, we see absolutely no evidence at all that people prefer to experience sport there. What you do get is more people following more events from the small screen.”
- As broadcasters snap up viewing rights in the regular merry-go-round of sports packages, what will it mean for pubs? Read here
- The Morning Advertiser spoke to MatchPint co-founder Dom Collingwood to discuss what the likes of Amazon and Facebook competing for sports broadcasting rights could mean for pubs. Read here
- After the Premier League issued its tender document for television rights yesterday (7 December), it has been revealed that more Saturday night and midweek football fixtures will be screened live between 2019 and 2022 with full sets of fixtures made available for broadcast for the first time ever. Read here
- With the UFC returning to BT Sport after rights holder Eleven Sports’ distribution deals fell through, The Morning Advertiser asked what the change of broadcaster means for pubs showing sport. Read here