/ Travel & Leisure

Premier League on Prime: what’s in it for Amazon?

This Boxing Day, Amazon will show every Premier League match live. There’s been a lot of fuss about it, but what’s in it for them? Is this the future?

This is a guest post by John Nicholson.  All views expressed are John’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?. 

Amazon has paid around £90m for the three-year package of Premier League football matches shown in early December and over the Christmas week.

In 2018 alone, Amazon turned over $232bn, so it’s basically a few coins it’s found down the back of the corporate sofa.

It’s not that interested in the football, of course. It’s a way for its service to reach more people. After the first round of games shown 3 – 5 December, it attracted ‘a record number of sign-ups’ after ‘millions’ watched.

But a ‘record number’ could mean anything without context. In the same way Sky and BT are pretty secretive about subscription numbers, positive PR seems to be how the football broadcasting industry works.

For example, what does ‘watched’ really mean? Traditionally, you only need to see three successive minutes to be counted as a viewer. Everyone could’ve turned off after three minutes, so bored by it they were.

Covering the huge costs

It’s just as well that the £90m is chump change to Amazon, because football broadcasters have likely never made any money from broadcasting football, per se.

It costs around £9m a game for the rights fees. BT Sport attracts anything from 200,000 to a million (its record is 1.7 million peak), while Sky ranges from 750,000 to two million. Sky broadcasted 128 games last season – 112 didn’t attract over two million).

That makes the ad revenue attracted too anaemic to do the heavy-lifting required to cover those fees, let alone production costs, so the losses have to be amortised across the corporation.

And that’s how it’s always been. Even globally, an average of 10 million people watch any Premier League game live.

The ‘product’ sells itself as hugely popular, and it is the most-watched league, but in absolute terms, very few people are paying subscriptions to watch it.

I’d wager it will be the same with Amazon simply because I can’t see why its coverage, which is apparently identical to everyone else’s, would be more popular. It’s the same football done the same way.

The paywall problem

We know there’s a potentially huge audience for football on TV in the UK. We know this because when an FA Cup game is on the BBC it can attract up to eight million.

When ITV showed the England v Croatia World Cup semi-final, 30.4 million people watched it – the largest audience for a single channel broadcast in British history.

So there’s no shortage of people who like watching football on TV, but there is a big shortage of people who want to pay to do so. 

And therein lies Amazon’s problem, and indeed all broadcasters who want to show football behind a paywall. You can dress it up as a premium product, call it ‘Prime’ or ‘Premier’, aggrandise it as much as you want, but one unchanging truth is that it’s still just football.

That means that it’s inconsistent, often boring, often poor entertainment. It’s sometimes thrilling, but not often. Sometimes good, but only in short passages.

Football fans know this and that’s fine, but don’t try to pretend it’s an upmarket premium product for which we must pay big money or, indeed, any money. We know it isn’t. That’s why so few of us do.

Corporations often seem to think that football can be sold just like any other product, but it can’t – it’s unique. No-one goes to a restaurant that serves terrible food more than once, but we watch terrible football week after week.

That’s because it’s more than a mere leisure purchase.

Is the future actually free-to-air?

The principle that you maximise your audience is well established in the USA.

They don’t put their most popular sport behind a paywall because they know it’s better to have a big audience on free-to-air TV than it is to shrivel it behind a subscription fee.

Big audiences can be monetised in many different ways and ensures healthy interest in the future. 

Here’s my idea; if you want a big audience, I think it’s clear from the numbers that free-to-air on BBC and ITV is the only way to get it. It would also render illegal streaming pointless.

It would return live football to the common embrace and give us the shared experiences so essential for a closer cohesive society. Importantly, it would also inspire people to play more and be more active. There is cast iron proof of that. 

If football was free and accessible to all, ‘listed’ as a protected game in the way the World Cup already is, it could offer huge health and social benefits to society. Think fitness and well-being, productivity, social exclusion – all of which cost us money.

Football on terrestrial free-to-air TV as it once was. Yes, it sounds old-fashioned but I’ll tell you this: I don’t think the really radical future is on Amazon. The future is in the past.

This was a guest post by John Nicholson.  All views expressed were John’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?. 

What do you think of John’s idea to show football on free-to-air TV? Would it work? Would it be worth it?

Have you taken up an Amazon Prime trial off the back of the new Premier League offering? Will you stick with it?

Bavid Dowie says:
18 December 2019

Amazon sports coverage is plagued with buffering , as football appeals to large numbers of people putting it online will only make it worse. Unlike Streaming a movie, with sport everyone has to watch at the same time. so free to air more efficient.

You could substitute “cricket” for “football” in John’s report & it still rings true.

When Amazon first got the rights to the US Open tennis the quality was noticeably poor, but since then I’ve not encountered any problems. The football streamed fine for me a couple of weeks ago.

John raises some very interesting points here, especially around how the games aren’t profitable for the broadcasters and what the future may be as a result. I think a lot of it comes down to people just not being that interested unless it’s their club (with exceptions to bigger games such as Champions League finals). I’d likely pay to watch Palace play, say, Bournemouth. But Bournemouth v anyone else? Not that bothered. (Apologies to any Bournemouth fans).

For me (Clive), as someone who plays grass roots football week after week I’d just like to see investment in those facilities. I’ve watched it stagnate and decline massively over the last 13 years. Where there were once dozens of teams playing at the local rec there are now one or two (sometimes none), and countless clubs and entire divisions have disappeared.

One of my old clubs was first established in the 1950s… in 2015 we ran out of players, interest and money. Such a shame.

If football was on regularly on BBC/ITV would that change things? I think, over time, it would. Interest would only increase if something is more accessible – the World Cup figures prove that. Indeed when in the two weeks Wimbledon is broadcast on the BBC there’s a massive uptake in people playing tennis.

Would an increase in participation have the knock-on effect required to make something like this worth the investment?

Robert says:
19 December 2019

Pity they don’t have golf not interested in football

I’m afraid I find golf even more boring than other sports; only the highlights are worth watching; The same goes for motor racing. Cricket and football at least involve spontaneous team strategy and tactics and rely almost entirely on inconsistent factors [including the players’ skills on the day].

Derek says:
20 December 2019

I am one of those sad neglected football fans that goes to the games. It’s difficult enough to get home in the evenings anyway but Amazon extra late kick offs make it even more difficult, not to mention the away supporters. If that’s not enough it’s difficult to plan family events as I never know when the fixtures will change time or date, family comes first so I usually miss the game. I have a Prime subscription, but I am now thinking of cancelling it.
Also look at the way subscription services money paid to the FA has not improved our National Team or Grass Roots Football! Its all a big con trick.

Disappointed with the Prime coverage. Expected something different, but same old presenters, commentators and pundits.

BBC cannot afford the games and they cannot offset it against any commercials shown during/around the game. ITV can at least show commercials – but it is not financially viable for them… But Sky, BT Sport and now Amazon can and I am happy that we have them. I hope they stream even more football in the future & I would be happy to pay them in order to see my club, and some other big games too.
There is no ‘entitlement’ for any of us to watch the games on TV. In the ‘old days’ we had to go to the football ground and pay. It cost a LOT more every week and in any case, most people don’t live in their favourite club’s area. (Majority of world-wide supporters do not get BBC/ITV and other terrestrial TV!)
So, we have a choice now. Pay to watch games ‘live’ else, you can always catch them on BBC’s Match-of-the-day’

I’ve been a Sky subscriber since they started in 1992. Yes, it’s far from cheap but I enjoy watching not just my own club’s games but also those of their competitors. Boxing Day is going to be grim because I refuse to sign up to a streaming service be it free or not. R5Live will be my saviour. I dread to think how our football would change should Amazon get big contracts when they next come up for auction. Quarters instead of halves so more ads can be fitted in?For all of Sky’s and BT’s faults a broadcaster wins hands down every time for me. How do people with poor connection speeds get a service? All Sky require is a dish.

If subscription broadcasters, particularly Sky, pulled the plug on football or the game turned its back on them how would the fortune put into football by the broadcasters be replaced? Almost certainly attendances would not fill the gap, because these are pretty healthy already despite games being live on TV. The only possible benefit I can see is a reduction in income leading to lower wages and lower transfer fees, compared to their currently crazy level, and less being syphoned out of the game and into the pockets of its parasites – agents.

Amazon is streaming ALL the premier league matches on Boxing Day so you will be able to select your supported team which would not be the case on terrestial TV where only one fixture can be broadcast.

John makes some interesting points but they’re not really backed up by hard evidence. Sky and BT must have a commercial justification for paying the eye-watering sums they do to show Premier League football (along with a lot of other sports), so whatever the reason, the reality is that you have to pay to view.

K.riscoll says:
20 June 2021

I do not use Amazon. Prefer John Lewis for price and service. A UK company who pay tax.