Premier League take a tentative step into the future, but they’re already behind the curve

Happy Friday to you all. I slept until almost 6am this morning which is a new record with the new puppy. I was woken by her flinging a plant pot around the kitchen, but hey, beggars and choosers and all that.

Yesterday saw an interesting development in the broadcasting rights for the Premier League as Amazon bought one of the remaining two packages of games from the start of the 2019-20 season. It’s an odd package too, giving them the rights to stream 10 games consecutively on two days across their streaming platform – available to subscribers of Amazon Prime.

It doesn’t have a huge impact on things at this moment in time, but it’s the first time any rights have been sold to a non-traditional broadcaster. For years Sky had a monopoly on the Premier League, but we were told that for the benefit of customers/consumers/clients and, lastly, fans – this had to be broken up to give us more choice.

The problem with that, of course, is that more choice doesn’t mean you can choose between the most competitive offerings. Instead, it meant you had to add an additional subscription in order to watch the games that went to Setanta Sports initially, and then to BT Sports.

Similarly, even though there are ways and means of signing up for free trials of Prime and so on, the new deal means that if you want these extra games you have to pay. The Premier League – and the clubs too, let’s not forget, because these deals are done for their benefit also – are squeezing even more cash out of people under the guise of ‘choice’ but the reality is about generating as much income as possible.

I think we all understand that, at this point. None of us look at our clubs, with their turnover in the hundreds of millions, and think they’re anything other than big corporations now. Not so much football clubs as football related businesses. And business is gonna business, especially when the influence of owners and administrators who view them as such continues to grow.

Arsenal are a prime (no pun intended) example of that. The majority shareholder is an American billionaire who views his franchises through the prism of numbers first and foremost, sporting success appears to be a secondary consideration for him. Even the other large shareholder, Alisher Usmanov, bought into the club for the same reasons Roman Abramovich bought into Chelsea.

It wasn’t philanthropic. It wasn’t a lifelong love of these London clubs, at best it would be a plaything for a rich man, but first and foremost it was about oligarchs making themselves visible, using their money to provide a veneer of respectability – and recent events with Abramovich denied a UK visa and having to move to Israel show how nebulous that concept is right now.

Note: If you missed it previously, this podcast from last season about billionaire owners is well worth a listen.

Anyway, wherever they can squeeze us for more money, they will squeeze us, and undoubtedly that’s part of the Amazon deal. However, it’s also an acknowledgement from the Premier League that things have changed. It used to be a case that if you wanted to watch football you sat on your sofa, turned on your satellite/cable box, and if you had the right subscription you were all set.

Now, people watch things on computers, laptops, tablets and phones. They don’t always watch things on these devices legally. Streaming is a reality, there’s no escaping that, and it’s not just because people don’t want to pay: it’s because they want to be able to watch things they way they want to watch them.

We don’t want to be restricted to sitting in one place in front of one screen. We want access to it wherever we are on whatever device we happen to have. Trying to fight against that is pointless. It’s King Canute and the tide territory, so the Premier League aligning themselves with a company like Amazon – who already have a massive platform and huge resources – is a sign of where things are likely to go.

The next broadcasting deal is almost certainly going to see one of Sky or BT Sport get blown out of the water by an online giant. Whether it’s Amazon or someone else, the landscape is shifting faster than traditional media can keep up, and who knows how we’re going to be consuming media in 5-10 years time.

I think the Premier League are already behind the curve on this, in a big way. Having 20 a season games streaming over 3 years, taking us to 2022, is poor in this day and age. I know Sky and BT have their own streaming options – but my awareness of them is as much down to people complaining about how poor they are than anything else.

Where we’ll be in 2022 is a big question, but if the people in charge of the Premier League do what record companies did and deny the reality of how people consume, and wanted to consume, music – then they’ll find themselves in real trouble. They have to face up to the reality of it, the reality that is creating a generation or generations of people who can find ways of doing it for free – and provide a service which people are prepared to pay for. iTunes for football in a way.

Will they? You’d like to think so, but then this stuff is not new. I’ve been writing about it on the site for years, and they’re only just beginning to dip their toes into the water now with a deal that doesn’t even come into effect until next year. A lot can happen in 12 months too, and it’ll be four more years before any further changes can be made.

Also, I realise how handy Amazon is, and there’s a reason why it’s such a massive corporation, but I can’t be the only one uneasy about their business practices, the way they treat staff, their unwillingness to pay the appropriate taxes, the bullying tactics they use to get away with it, and so much more. It’s just another level to add to the moral quandaries football presents us with these days.

I know, if it wasn’t them it might be someone else, and I know all big companies do it, but isn’t it about time that we really thought about this and stopped simply accepting it as a matter of fact because it’s always been that way? That might be a discussion for another day though.

For some extra reading today, here’s Tim Stillman on what success might look like for new boss Unai Emery.

Right, I’ll leave you with today’s Arsecast in which the TV rights thing comes up, but having signed Stephan Lichtsteiner this week, I chat to Paolo Bandini about what kind of a player he was at Juventus, what he can bring to this squad, the start of the Unai Emery era and lots more. Listen and subscribe below. More from me tomorrow.

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