Now declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, the coronavirus has seen the cancellation of the NBA season, the suspension of all sport in Italy, and increased speculation of Premier League matches being closed to the public. Where does this leave sport broadcasters?
“These are unprecedented times,” Alex DeGroote, independent media analyst and senior advisor to Trillium Partners, tells TVBEurope. “There is a global public health emergency. But the broadcasters also have more capacity and better tech than ever before. Most broadcasters are also trying to integrate social media distribution into their core strategies. This crisis may accelerate that.”
DeGroote believes the situation will get worse before it gets better, noting that the health crisis is likely to peak in early May. “The Olympics going ahead is probably a 50:50 bet,” he adds.
For public service broadcasters (PSB), scheduling limits flexibility around live sport “but their overall viewing is less about sport than dedicated subscription pay-tv,” DeGroote observes. “Will subscribers churn off pay-tv if there is no live content? Both PSBs and pay-tv face pressure from social platforms.”
In Germany, Sky has announced it will broadcast the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga on free-to-air (FTA) TV for the next two match days. In the UK, it is now thought that the FA’s 3pm blackout will be observed on Saturdays, but matches moved from that slot and live streamed instead. All Premier League season and individual match ticket holders will reportedly be able to stream the games live from their homes.
“Rights owners are already partnering with the likes of Twitter and Facebook Watch on a piecemeal basis,” confirms DeGroote. “This may accelerate now. This alone is not a long-term solution however, as gate receipts are a key part of football club income. Outside of the Premier League, football clubs’ finances are very fragile.”
“With matches closed to the public, it makes sense for pay-TV operators to show games kicking off at 3pm UK time for free or a nominal charge,” he continues. “However, this may not be permitted in bars and pubs to avoid mass audiences. The blackout is a farce anyway as per the recent furore over gambling companies being in breach with live coverage.”
TVBEurope reached out to UK sport broadcasters for comment on their handling of the situation. A BBC spokesperson said: “We will make decisions on a case by case basis, working with fellow broadcasters and rights holders to ensure the best possible outcomes for audiences and sports fans.”
A spokesperson for BT Sport also responded: “BT Sport continues to operate as usual and any changes we make will be based on Government advice and medical guidance.”