ESPN today announced just how they are going to broadcast the 46 Premier League games (and in all probability Scottish Premier League games) in Britain, that they acquired the rights for following the collapse of Setanta.
The games will be broadcast on a new premium channel simply called ESPN and will start broadcasting from 3rd August.
This channel is going to cost a minimum of £9 (about $15) per month and could be more depending on the satellite/cable operator (That’s on top of how ever much you’re already paying for Cable/Satellite). That is about the same as what Setanta charged, and look how that turned out.
Now, I do not doubt for a second that the ESPN coverage will be anything but first-rate as they deliver consistently on other sports and their football will be produced by Sky, who do produce excellent coverage. I’m looking forward to seeing just what ESPN can bring to the table.
What I have massive doubts over is the price of the channel and if it will succeed where others have failed.
There is one huge flaw to this business model. It is part of the TV rights contract that all 20 teams have to be shown on live TV at least a certain number of games a year (I think it’s a minimum of 6, but I’m not 100% on that).
This means that you get some glamorous games and some games that will not appeal to anyone other than fans of the two teams playing. As an example, a game between Liverpool and Manchester United will be far more appealing to football fans in general, than a game between Bolton and Hull City. Therein lies the problem.
The idea of paying a subscription to watch football was started in England by the ill-fated ITVSport channel, which broadcast games from the football league. This folded, due to not having enough subscribers, due to people deciding that games like Darlington v Gillingham was not worth paying for.
Setanta also failed due to subscription uptake being too low. Even though they showed a huge range of sports, something that ESPN also want to do, they were not able to attract enough subscribers.
The problem with these premium channels is that you will not want to watch everything they show. You end up watching certain games or sporting events and completely ignoring others. The problem comes in the months where you’re paying but don’t end up watching anything.
With the global economy in the crapper, we all have a little less money to play with. I think most people will decide that paying £108 per year is just not worth. Personally, I have never subscribed to one of these premium channels, if there’s a game on I want to watch, I’ll go out and watch it. Many others do the same.
Unfortunately for ESPN, I can’t see this channel being any more successful than its predecessors. ESPN only have 23 games for the 2010-11 season, and this will put off potential subscribers more.
Whereas this type of Premium sports channel has worked across the world, I can’t ever see it being successful in Britain, at least not unless its offered at the kind of price that would make it palatable to the casual fan, though it would seriously eat into profits.