Pay-to-view sports the new trend?

Joe Pennell 28 November 2013

It seems inevitable that professional football has now become a commercial juggernaut. After Gareth Bale’s world-record £85 million fee, Premier League television rights are following a similar trajectory of dizzying investment. BT has recently confirmed a three-year-deal, reportedly worth £897m, to show European club football exclusively in Britain.

BT Sport represents an unprecedented challenge to BSkyB in sports broadcasting. The deal, which the latter said was “far in excess” of their valuations, will undoubtedly unsettle Sky. Unlike Setanta or ESPN, BT has the financial muscle of a telecom titan prepared to compete with Sky.

The gauntlet has been laid down in sports broadcasting. Premiership Rugby, Moto GP and Nascar have all been tempted. In addition to the battle with BSkyB, the Champions League deal also means that the competition will, for the first time, have no live games screened on free terrestrial television from 2015.

Aimed at undercutting Sky Sports subscriptions, which often exceed £40-a-month, BT’s new package is planned as an extension of their current phone and broadband services. Yet BskyB are far from failing. Well over 10 million paying subscribers, a continuing stranglehold over the far more lucrative Premier League rights, and a 100% success rate against commercial competitors since 1992 will all give Sky reasons to be optimistic.

One thing appears clear: televised sport is moving inexorably towards pay-to-view services, as with many sporting events in the U.S. We should cherish spectacles that remain free and accessible to all: Wimbledon, the Ryder Cup, the Grand National or the FA Cup. They may not be around for long.