Earlier this month, the English Premier League (EPL) struck a television deal that could have major ramifications for global audiences, particularly in the US.
The EPL has the biggest audience of any English language soccer league in the US. With a worldwide audience of nearly 5 billion, it is watched by more than 1 million television fans in the US every week, with NBC Sport alone averaging more than 420,000 viewers a week during the 2016/17 EPL season.
A competition that features some of the oldest soccer clubs in the world, a passionate and noisy fan base, and the presence of some of the game’s greatest players are three key reasons why the EPL has a unique appeal, not just in the US but also around the world, attracting sports fans, soccer fanatics, and people who want to wager on Stakers.com.
However, if the recently announced television deal is anything to go by, the domestic English audience for EPL soccer has peaked.
The previous deal, struck in 2015, saw Sky and BT pay a record $7.14 billion, but the new contract, covering the 2019/20 to 2021/22 seasons, is valued at $6.33 billion. Five of the seven packages of games have been sold, with four going to Sky and one to BT, though two packages are not yet sold.
This shortfall in television money is likely to lead to EPL clubs looking to the growing overseas market for additional revenue, which will be good news for US EPL fans. That trend has already started.
Currently, the value of overseas rights to the EPL is worth around $1.1 billion every year, and in 2017 the EPL did deals with a number of major international television markets that were a significant upgrade on previous arrangements. The latest deal with Chinese broadcaster PPTV is worth around $700 million, while last year NBC agreed a deal worth $1 billion over six years.
In many ways, US audiences have an advantage over their English counterparts. UK viewers can watch an average of three EPL games every weekend, but US fans can see every game throughout the season, courtesy of the NBC Sports Group’s exclusive coverage.
Further coverage is offered through NBC’s Premier League Pass, Universo, and Telemundo and through various legal live streaming services – and this US audience is becoming increasingly important, not just to television networks but also to EPL clubs.
For many years after the founding of the EPL, the overseas television rights market was relatively insignificant and all the clubs were content to split this revenue equally. However, the growth in the EPL’s international popularity has not gone unnoticed by the leading clubs.
Last year, the “Big Six” of Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United, Manchester City, and Liverpool were pushing for a change in the way that international rights money was split, claiming that they should be entitled to 35 percent of the revenue.
The proposal failed to gain widespread support and has been dropped for the time being, but it underlined the growing focus on the international EPL audience, which is also evident in the fixture changes included in the latest television deal.
The EPL fixture schedule for the 2019-2022 period will include matches that kick off at 19:45 on a Saturday, eight other games broadcast live at “prime-time” on a Saturday night, three rounds of ten midweek games, all scheduled for live coverage, and a set of matches arranged for a Bank Holiday.
While these might be seen as modest changes, they are a sign of the EPL’s desire to reach out to international markets and meet the rapidly growing demand for live EPL coverage in countries such as the US, and they may only be the beginning.
Previously, EPL administrators have proposed the idea of teams in the EPL playing one game a season overseas. The proposal was rejected at the time but is likely to be back on the table in the current climate, and will be enthusiastically supported by US EPL fans.
Whereas before, overseas broadcasters had little say in the terms of EPL broadcasts, there is now a potential for them to have a greater influence in terms of kick-off times and other fixture details, and as one of the biggest global markets for the EPL, this is a positive development for the US and for US EPL fans.
And anything that increases exposure in a nation that is increasingly embracing soccer can only be a good thing for the EPL and its clubs.