Amazon Prime announced on 31 July it will make the 20 Premier League fixtures it holds exclusive broadcasting rights to in each of the next three seasons available to pubs via the ‘Amazon Premier League Pass’.
The pass, which will be marketed to pubs and clubs by BT Sport, itself the holder of 52 Premier League games next season, will let publicans show fixtures via their current set-top box equipment and satellite dish – a relief to operators fearing a stream-based solution and a marathon telephone tennis match with their Wi-Fi provider.
What’s more, with only 30% of pubgoing sports fans currently subscribing to Amazon at home, and with 40% neither subscribing nor planning to, the pub feels like a prime location for Amazon’s fixtures according to research by MatchPint.
A logical move
“Unlike BT Sport and Sky, who most operators have regular contact with, Amazon was starting from scratch and while it was common knowledge they had the fixtures – no formal announcements had been made, creating concern,” Paul Filler, managing director at Magnify Marketing explains.
“Similar things have been seen before
when Boxing Nation and ITV Pay Per View launched without any immediate commercial announcements both of which ended up being supported by BT Sport or Sky.
“Clearly, Amazon has an appetite for sport, it is an official broadcaster of tennis already and its customers want to consume sport like they do the rest of their TV content.
“For pubs, until broadband is available at high speed – bear in mind, some pubs currently show matches in 4k – the current arrangement works and will be in place for some time.”
What’s more industry analyst Paolo Pescatore describes the appointment of BT Sport to market the pass as “logical”, and a move that builds upon a “close and growing relationship with BT Sport rather than trying to pursue any approach solely on its own.”
But while clarity and the promise games will be available have been welcomed by publicans, are they optimistic about Amazon’s first foray into the Premier League jungle?
Justine Lorriman of the Royal Dyche in Burnley, Lancashire, explains that given her pub’s local side are far from regulars on TV – only Watford, Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Southampton were televised less than the Clarets last season – the viability of Amazon Premier League Pass rests on the inclusion of a match choice option.
“It’s great Amazon is adding more live fixtures, it can only bring more people to venues but it is also yet another cost for us to show these fixtures,” she explains.
“Being so close to Turf Moor, many of our customers are only interested in Burnley being shown live – I wasn’t 100% sure if all the games on these dates are being shown but, if this is the case, this would be brilliant for us and make a big impact on our business.
“Burnley aren’t exactly a priority to be shown on Sky and BT – it’s not always beneficial for us paying so much for these channels. For Amazon to give the option to select the game of your choice would be ideal for us.
“Boxing Day is the huge one with football fans, we are away to Everton this year and so if we are able to show this game it would really boost our business.”
Clarity, but at a cost
Philip Cutter of 2019 Great British Pub Awards’ best for sport finalist the Gardeners Arms, also known as the Murderers, in Norwich, describes the announcement of the Amazon Premier League Pass as “all very exciting”.
However, while the Premier League fixtures machine sending newly promoted Norwich City away to Southampton and Aston Villa on Amazon’s December match days are “a real bonus to trade”, Cutter worries the cost may not make subscribing worthwhile.
“We are aware that subscription will clearly come at a cost and without knowing the pricing structure at the moment it’s difficult to gauge whether there will be an option to purchase individual games or the full 20 games,” he explains.
“We currently pay almost £38,000 a year to have commercial rights to show Sky and BT sports – not including pay per-view events – and fear that this is just another expense that may not be cost-effective for, not only us, but the industry as a whole.”
What’s more, Cutter adds the Gardeners Arms may not reap the full benefit of the fixtures covered by the Amazon Premier League Pass – the 3-5 December and 26-27 December match days – because they fall during what is traditionally a busy time of year for pubs.
“Sadly, most pubs are busy over the Christmas period,” he explains. “We often cover between 15-20% of our annual turnover in December, and the Amazon Pass could have been a bigger driver in January for a quieter month.
“The Premier League is a massive part of the success of our sports offer here at the Murderers, but the jury’s out as to whether we take this on if the opportunities for domestic subscribers for a fraction of the cost mean that everyone will subscribe and negate the need to watch this down the pub.”
No option but to buy
“We all knew Amazon were in the running for some games but there’s still uncertainty on how this is going to work,” according to Martin Whelan of The Tollington, Islington, north London – close to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.
Whelan explains that with the 2019-20 season under way, a number of key questions still remain unanswered, including whether pubs will be able to show more than one game via multiple boxes, whether match days will be available to purchase separately for bars that don’t open on Boxing Day, and whether Amazon would be providing publicans with point-of-sale materials.
The north London operator also bemoans the addition of what he sees as another unavoidable cost for pubs whose reputations hinge on comprehensive and reliable sports coverage.
“Sky and BT Sports have always shared the Christmas calendar and we will now have to pay for Amazon also,” Whelan adds.
“We won’t have much of an option but to buy this from Amazon because can you imagine the uproar it would cause in pubs throughout the country if our loyal customers – whom support us day in, day out – came to the pub on a Boxing Day with their families and couldn’t see any Premier League football.
“It feels like extortion and I’m disgusted with the Premier League as I’m sure every other publican is.”