Up a Creek: The Premier League on Amazon
Some people have got a funny idea of what the word “competition” means. The issue of private monopolies within the media is very real, and that the European Union chose to get involved wasn’t that much of a surprise. The target of their ire, however, misplaced. In 2007, they objected to what they saw as a monopolyon television rights and demanded the contracts be split into separate packages of twenty-three games. Eventually Sky won four of the six available packages, with the other two being taken by Setanta Sports.
The current iterations of these contracts were held by Sky Sports and BT Sport until the end of last season, but from this season on there is also a third contract holder, and it’s Amazon Prime. What is unusual is the nature of their contract. Rather than regular weekly matches throughout the season, Amazon have purchased two complete rounds of Premier League matches – this week’s round of matches and, presumably more lucratively, the round to be played on Boxing Day – and tonight is the first night of it all.
But there is a price to pay for all of this. Amazon Prime costs £7.99 per month, and you don’t have to give notice to cancel. In addition to this, they routinely give out a 30-day free pass to new users, which can be cancelled at no further cost to the user. How many people might take up their 30-day free pass and then forget to cancel it? And then there are possible tie-ins with the Christmas market, and other benefits such as getting people onto their website or app a couple of weeks before the festive season. Amazon might well consider the amount that it has cost them to be worthwhile in (likely targetted) advertising alone.
In one respect, the EU were acting against a monopoly (that of Sky TV over the domestic television rights in England), but in an altogether more profound sense, they were acting against the best interests of consumers. Regardless of the specifics of how to get around paying full whack for these services – there remain millions who do – having a third broadcaster for Premier League football is simply not convenient for consumers. It’s another account to have to set up. It’s another password to remember. It’s another quick mental double-check of which match is on what channel.
Those exist, even for people who can comfortably afford to pay for all subscriptions, or who get them cheaply. Even before we factor in the matter of cost, it’s just a… bit of a ball-ache. It’s difficult to list many ways in which not having All The Football in one place is a good thing. At least it’s only two rounds of matches and for now, it’s free for anyone who wants to partake. It is also difficult to imagine that this is the thickest end of the wedge either, though. Things will evolve. That is inevitable, but it isn’t really the question. The question is that of what sort of future it will be. Where will we be with this in ten years’ time? Or twenty? The one thing we know for certain is that the best interests of fans tend to be overlooked when such decisions are made.
What of the actual content, though? Well, this evening’s matches are an aperitif, really, with staggered kick-offs. Crystal Palace vs Bournemouth at 7.30, and Burnley vs Manchester City at 8.15. Unfortunately, though, one immutable rule of live football broadcasting is that the broadcast can only be as good as the match, and the first half of Crystal Palace vs Bournemouth feels a little like turning up at a dinner party and being given a bottle of Huel as a starter. The sending off of Palace’s Mamadou Sakho for a reckless tackle on Adam Smith after nineteen minutes is the highlight of an otherwise insipid first half.
As the players at Selhurst Park get ready for their half-time cocoa, those at Turf Moor are taking to the pitch. Gaby Logan is hosting, alongside Roberto Martinez, Nigel de Jong and testicle at his best friend’s wedding Alan Shearer. They’ve pulled out all the stops in the commentary box as well, with the master of the commentators bellow Peter Drury, with long-standing foil Jim Beglin. Drury has come full circle in commentary terms, but he is a man whose bluster is dependent on drama, and Burnley vs Manchester City isn’t going to do that. There are a couple of goals for him to let off some steam over, but this ends up being something of a stroll in the park for City.
Tomorrow night, however, is the main event. Six matches, all being shown live, with a goals show jumping ftom game to game at the same time. Amazon may well have deemed this evening a success. Their coverage was decent enough, and our screens were a refreshingly Robbie Savage-free zone for the evening. They didn’t mess anything up, and it’s hardly their fault if the matches weren’t anything much to write home about (unless you happen to be a Crystal Palace supporter, for whom winning 1-0 whilst having to play more than seventy minutes with ten men might live long in the memory.)
That said, we should worry about what the side effects might be for the lower divisions if this movement towards simultaneously covering all matches live continues to grow. There certainly seems to be little sign of it abating, and this week’s matches might be canaries in the coalmine for a future in which every match is televised, whether we like it or not. We should worry about what effect this would have on our smaller clubs, and the shift in the culture of our game should this come to pass. Just because it’s effectively free for most people this week, doesn’t mean that it always will be.
Dystopian visions of the future notwithstanding, though, Amazon’s coverage of the Premier League will likely be considered to have got off to a reasonable start. They didn’t try too hard to shout in our face (hello, BT Sport), and they didn’t break for adverts every couple of minutes despite charaging you for a subscription (hello Sky Sports.) Tonight wasn’t the problem, though, and was never likely to be. The problem is where this goes from here, and where it ends up. And none of us know the answer to that, yet.