Sport

Facebook, Amazon and the Premier League

It’s nearly time for the money-go-round… sorry, merry-go-round, that is the Premier League rights auction for seasons 2019/20-2021/22. We’ve just started the second season of the current deal where Sky and BT between them have spent £5.1bn for the current round of rights. Recall that last time around, this represented a colossal 71% increase in revenues.

That money, allied with ever-increasing overseas TV rights, fuels the UK game. But there were questions about how much further rights could increase next time around. Sky and BT represent the only “broadcasters” who are likely to bid next time around, and assuming that each is broadly happy with its lot, you wouldn’t expect rights to increase substantially.

Indeed, it seems as though the current set of rights have caused some real pain to the broadcasters. Sky has broadly speaking cut back its sports coverage, losing men’s tennis, and reducing rugby union coverage. Anecdotally, it seems that more coverage is coming from Sky’s studios rather than sending production teams to events.

One way or another, Sky has tried to avoid massive increases to consumers, although prices are going up.

So if Sky and BT are fairly maxed out, how do Premier League clubs get some big increases next time around?

Today The Guardian reports that Manchester United vice-chairman Ed Woodward says that Amazon and Facebook will get into the game.

As far as everyone is concerned, these companies bring untold wealth. They could be game-changers – pardon the pun.

Well of course Woodward would say that. And I’m sure that Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple will run the numbers. But at over £10m a match under the current contract, they’d need a compelling case. With the possible exception of The Crown, that blows all top TV dramas out of the water in terms of costs.

A lot has been made of Amazon taking on ATP Men’s Tennis in the UK from next year. They’re paying around £10m – the same price as a single Premier League match – for a year’s worth of tennis. Sky is said to have wanted to pay less than last time around, so it was to all intents and purposes giving up on the sport. They’d already dropped their US Open coverage.

For Amazon, tennis is a bit of a trial. Perhaps it’ll get them new Prime memberships, or make current members happier. But it’s not a massive cost. It’s not a multi-billion, multi-year commitment.

That’s not to say that one of GAFA won’t buy rights, but that’s a much bigger step. And what does that really get you?

All of this is before considering whether every football-loving household in the UK has enough internet bandwidth to support a live HD (or 4K) stream.

I could be wrong. But I’m not convinced just yet.

Free to Air Cricket

Today brings some interesting news, with the ECB actually allowing some free-to-air cricket on TV screens in the future. The BBC has done a deal to see the return of cricket to its channels for the first time since 1999.

You will recall that in 1998, Channel 4 secured the rights to most international cricket, notably including Test cricket. One Test was aired on Sky, who until that point had made do with smaller competitions and notably overseas tours.

In many respects Channel 4 really improved TV coverage, and despite some awkward business of trying to show both cricket and Channel 4 Racing on the same afternoons (with Film 4 often being used as an overspill channel), they were very successful.

In its final season Channel 4 saw a peak audience of over 7m watch England win the 2005 Ashes. Thousands turned out for an open-top bus parade that ended in Trafalgar Square.

Cricket was on top.

And then, for the most part, it disappeared from our screens. Sky had outbid Channel 4 for exclusive coverage of all domestic cricket. The ECB had taken Sky’s cash ahead of any interest in keeping the game alive.

The ECB continued to work exclusively with Sky renewing deals right through until 2019.

The only free-to-air cricket that appeared on our screens were Channel 5’s highlights packages and some IPL cricket on ITV4 (Which has since also moved to Sky). There’d be an occasional tourist game against Scotland on the red button but that was it.

Earlier this year, the BBC did show highlights of the ICC Trophy, and we have also seen some in-game digital clips appear on the BBC website. But for live cricket, you “only” had the unparalleled Test Match Special.

In the meantime participation in cricket had fallen, and most counties were now propped up financially by the ECB.

T20 had come along, and while the riches of the Indian Premier League might seem impossible to replicate in Britain, the success of Australia’s Big Bash seemed distinctly replicable.

That tournament runs for 35 nights in a row on free-to-air Channel Ten, garnering significant audiences for its city-based franchise structure. (It should be noted that Channel Ten is suffering severe financial pressures currently, and either rival Channel Nine will win the rights next time around, or some of the games may go subscription only).

So the ECB has now conjoured up a city-based franchise format, meaning that some big counties will miss out and need to be paid off. That also means that the new format will be in addition to the existing T20 Blast series which will continue to be competed at county level.

And then of course there are the existing four day County Championship games as well as one day competitions, all of which need to be squeezed into the cricket season.

Add into the mix central contracts, extended period of Big Bash, IPL, one-day internationals, T20 internationals and Tests, all of this means that big names are rarely seen in their “home” counties.

Still, that’s the mess of contemporary cricket.

Which all brings us to today’s news that the BBC has done a deal for cricket with the ECB. It doesn’t start until 2020, because Sky still has exclusivity until 2019. But the BBC will be showing:

  • Two England men’s home T20s (of a total of 4-6?)
  • One England women’s home T20
  • 10 matches from the domestic men’s T20 city-based franchise series, including the final (out of a total of 36 matches, all of which will be on Sky)
  • Up to 8 matchs from the women’s T20 city-based franchise series including the final
  • Highlights of home Tests, One Day Internationals and T20 Internationals
  • Highlights of women’s internationals
  • Digital clips of men and women’s internationals, plus County Championship, One-Day Cup and T20 matches
  • Test Match Special wins radio rights to all competitions through until 2024

So the live coverage will exclusively be T20 formats, with other competitions receiving highlights treatment.

Sky has regained rights to everything else, including exclusive live coverage of home Tests. BT Sport, which is thought to have bid, has not come away with any rights. Notably, it has bought rights to Australian cricket meaning that it will be the exclusive rights holder to the Ashes Tour this winter (assuming the massive pay dispute there is sorted out).

In total, the deal is said to be worth £1.1bn over five years – quite a jump from previous deals, with Sky’s last deal £260m over four years, and then extended a further two. That said, there wasn’t significant growth over the last two deals. This all suggests Sky sees a great opportunity in the new T20 competition.

Still, this all goes to show that getting eyeballs in front of your sport is essential if you want to see any significant growth in it. And perhaps other sports will learn from this.

The ECB has learnt the hard way.

Sky Sports Revamp

Sky Sports is reportedly getting a bit of a makeover, losing the numbered channels currently known as Sky Sports 1-5, and instead gaining sports-specific channels.

Currently the channels are roughly being used as follows:

Sky Sports 1 – Football
Sky Sports 2 – Cricket, Rugby, Football
Sky Sports 3 – Football, Tennis
Sky Sports 4 – Golf
Sky Sports 5 – Football
Sky Sports News
Sky Sports F1 – F1
Sky Sports Mix – (Available on cheaper non-sports Sky tiers) Simulcast of one of the above, Dutch/Spanish Football or smaller sports like Netball, Drone Flying etc.

It sounds like this list is going to be rationalised into:

Sky Sports Football 1/Premier League
Sky Sports Football 2/Football League/Spanish etc.
Sky Sports Cricket
Sky Sports Golf
Sky Sports Arena (Including Rugby and Tennis)
Sky Sports F1
Sky Sports News
Sky Sports Mix (Assuming this continues)

In some respects, this simplifies things a little. It seems that what Sky wants to be able to do is offer a cheaper entry to its sports packages. Recall that BT Sport retail its sports offerings from as little as £5 a month for a streaming package, and £7.50 for those with Sky (and a BT Broadband internet connection).

Currently the cheapest way of getting Sky Sports on TV is £49.50 a month (based on taking the cheapest Sky Original Bundle before adding the full Sky Sports pack to it, with Sky only offering packages with their new Sky Q box). According to The Guardian, this will allow Sky to charge £18 for its cheapest partial sports offering.

But I do foresee a few problems with this plan.

First of all, it seems likely that the cheapest offering will not be football, rights costs for which have shot up. I would anticipate that either cricket or golf will be the cheapest offerings.

Then there’s the issue of sustaining full channels of some of these sports around the clock year long. Sky Sports F1 is something of a joke outside the season, and is largely filled with filler outside of race weekends. Quite why it didn’t become a broader motor-sport channel has never been obvious to me.

You also have the issue of major sports that don’t fit in. What about Rugby League or NFL, both of which have significant followings and carriage deals with Sky.

But more to the point, as someone who takes the full Sky Sports package, I would love to pay less and drop sports I’m not interested in. Namely Sky Sports Golf and the misery that is Sky Sports F1 (Seriously, why would I pay to hear Martin Brundle?).

At time of writing, it’s not clear when these new packages will go live, and I’ve not seen the price breakdowns across the different packages.

There’s also the not insignificant matter of third parties who currently get Sky Sports 1 and 2 on a wholesale basis. Although formal “must-offer” conditions have previously been removed, Ofcom has said that it would take a keen interest in any move that removed Premier League football from other platforms.

It would seem like that Sky would continue to retail football. But nearly all Sky’s major sport appears on those Sky Sports 1 and 2 currently – so even if golf usually finds its home on Sky Sports 4, it gets a bump up during, say, The Masters or the Ryder Cup. Lions rugby is on Sky Sports 1 right now, and next week England’s Test series against South Africa will start on Sky Sports 2.

While the Premier League channel might be one, what would the second be? At the moment, if I subscribe to, say, Sky Sports on BT TV, I can watch Premier League football, Test cricket and Lions rugby. What happens in the future? The easy answer would be for Sky to allow its channels to be retailed more fully on other platforms. (I did also wonder if the recent news about Sky and Virgin sharing Sky’s targeted advertising technology might mean that Sky Atlantic was made available to Virgin Media homes?). But we shall have to wait and see.

With the Fox takeover of Sky still in the balance following yesterday’s news that it’s being referred to the competition authorities, it will be interesting to see how Sky plays this.

BT/UEFA Rights Deal

08 March 2009

Last week, BT Chief Executive Gavin Patterson was reported as saying that “rampant inflation in sports rights” had to end.

Today we learn that BT is going to pay £394m a season for UEFA Champions’ League and Europa League rights from the 2018/19 season, up from £299m a season under the previous agreement.

By my calculation, that’s a 31.8% increase over three years.

What was that about “rampant inflation” again?

BT’s new deal also includes all rights to highlights, meaning that there won’t be any TV highlights on ITV. Instead, BT will share free highlights in social media.

Hmm.

And of course UEFA is going to an 1800/2000 GMT/BST structure on Champions’ League match days, meaning lots of UK residents will still be at work or commuting while matches are taking place, as already happens with the Europa League. Oh good.

Prior to this deal being announced there had been lots of rumours in the press that UEFA advertisers were unhappy with the loss of free-to-air coverage.

One estimate suggests that being a tier one partner of the Champions’ League costs $70m. There are eight main sponsors of the Champions’ League (Heineken, Mastercard, Gazprom, Sony, Nissan, PepsiCo, Adidas and Unicredit), and if we assume that they all pay the same, that’s $560m a year in sponsorship revenue (Approx £460m).

UEFA’s calculation is that £100m more for UK rights is worth it, set against £460m of pan-European sponsorship revenues, and any reduced reach for those advertisers within the UK market for their premier competition.

This feels like a very short-term deal.

There is a quote in BT’s press release that says:

BT will enhance its social media coverage to reach new audiences, by making clips, weekly highlights, UEFA’s magazine show, and both finals available for free on social media. BT streamed both finals last year on YouTube for the first time, taking the number of people who watched BT’s live coverage of the finals to more than twelve million. The company will also seek to bring the best of the action to its large mobile customer base.

That suggests that only the final will be made available free. Everything else will be behind a BT paywall. No BT Showcase any more. There’s the possibility of BT sub-licencing some matches to another channel, but absolutely no guarantee they will.

I’ve examined the 12m number before, and it is to be regarded very carefully indeed. First of all 12m is not 12m different people – it’s the sum of the Champions’ League audience and Europa League audience. Football fans being who they are, that’s a lot of the same people who watched both matches.

And as I mentioned in the previous article, BT is using “reach” rather than the more usual “average audience” to get as big a number as they can. Last week 3.45m watched a one-sided FA Cup replay between Man City and Huddersfield. 3.45m means that at an average of 3.45m watched the entire broadcast from 1930-2200. Audiences aren’t constant, and once Man City were well ahead, audiences drifted away to other programmes. Other people turn on late and perhaps watch the last half an hour. Overall, at any given point in the entire match 3.45m were watching. But BT is using a reach number – the number of different people who watched any of the game. This is necessarily bigger. And it’s not a number that would normally be bandied around by a broadcaster when talking about viewership of their shows.

Finally, without a great deal more information we can’t be sure what the 3m YouTube component of the audience really means. First of all, the Champions’ League final had 1.8m views, meaning the Europa League must have had about 1.2m. YouTube registers a view when someone watches as little 30 seconds. So this almost certainly doesn’t mean 1.8m or 1.2m watched the entire match. And again, many of the same fans will have watched both matches.

Digging into BT’s YouTube channel doesn’t seem to surface the complete live videos any longer. There are just highlights packages. There are a couple of short videos with several hundred thousand views each, and it’s not clear if these were once the live streams (I suspect they may have been), or just incredibly popular promo videos, but either way, we need to be careful what we’re counting. Interestingly, the CL promo has around 470,000 views while the Europa League promo has over 600,000 views. If they were the live streams, then that doesn’t total 3m.

To be fair to BT for one moment, a single YouTube view does not equal a single viewer. Many will have been streaming to smart TVs with sizeable numbers potentially watching. But online video views can be a murky business, and the methodology is completely different to the BARB measurement for TV, meaning combined audiences figures should be treated with tremendous caution.

I suppose in the end, I find it incredibly disappointing that either a single match isn’t made available to ITV, C4 or C5, and that highlights are removed from TV altogether. Saying that you’ll make highlights available in social media is a nice addition, but shouldn’t replace a broadcast channel. Many older viewers in particular will struggle to see footage now. It’s the elderly and poorest in society who don’t have access to the internet for streaming and the devices necessary to enable them.

UEFA clearly doesn’t care about those viewers. BT will pay more for complete exclusivity, which they now have. And if you either can’t afford BT, or don’t have the means or ability to watch their social streams, then tough luck. No European football for you.

If this were any other sport – I’m looking at you, cricket – you’d question the ramifications for the future of the sport by striking this kind of lockout deal. But this is football, and the major competitions are always likely to be important.

The only tiny bit of hope is that Karen Bradley, Culture Secretary, recently talked of “future proofing” listed events like the World Cup. Would free-to-air Champions’ League highlights ever be included in that list?

Incidentally, if you were in Belgium, Germany or Italy, you’d be able to see, at minimum, the finals of the Champions’ League or Europa League of a home club reached the final, because of rules regarding listed events in those countries.

A 32% increase in fees? This time next year, the next Premier League TV deal will be being announced. I bet over in Gloucester Place, the Premier League is rubbing its hands in anticipation of next year, unless BT and Sky reach some kind of appeasement in respect of their relative positions in the TV football marketplace.

More “rampant inflation” to come?

[Later] An interesting piece in The Guardian about BT’s need to win these rights following a fairly miserable year for them. Although I would make a couple of points:

  • Only in football could a 32% increase in rights fees be considered to have cooled a little. BT drove the last round of increased fees by making a knockout bid. This time, they’ve still paid a substantial premium at a time when Sky “…did not look to submit a knockout Champions League bid.”
  • The Guardian piece notes that Sky is paying £11m a game under its current deal compared with £1.1m a game for BT’s UEFA deal. But that’s not really a fair comparison because Sky’s Premier League games are not all played simultaneously. In the group stages there are sixteen matches per round, spread over two nights. Even with two timeslots a night, that means at least three out of four matches will be behind a red button. And you can only watch one match at a time. Even watching the “goals” show, it means that a Tuesday evening is costing £8.8m for BT in rights fees. Sky only schedules a couple of simultaneous games on the final day of the season if there’s something to be played for. Yes, there’s “Super Sunday”, but you can watch both games.

Sky/Discovery Carriage Dispute

Channel carriage disputes are relatively rare in the UK, but we’re in for a sizeable one right now, with Discovery publicly stepping forward and saying that from the end of this month, Sky subscribers may no longer get access to a Discovery channels. It seems that the two companies have been unable to reach agreement on how much Sky pays Discovery from the subscription fees it collects from viewers.

Sky says that it has overpaid for Discovery’s channels for years.

Discovery says that it is now paid less than it was ten years ago. They claim Sky is playing hardball because of its Premier League rights inflation.

The whole dispute has become very public, very quickly. I noticed that during the BBC’s reporting of a Venus/Serena final in the Australian Open at the weekend, there was already a crawl along the Eurosport footage they’d lifted.

Discovery has set up a Keep Discovery website, and their social media outlets are alerting followers to the dispute. This is straight out of the US-playbook, where such tactics are common and often go public. Sometimes they’re quickly resolved; but other times they go on for years (In Los Angeles there is ongoing dispute between Time Warner Cable who own SportsNet LA with exclusive LA Dodgers coverage, and the major cable companies who actually reach customers in the area. As a result, most locals have been unable to watch local basseball coverage for at least three seasons now.)

Meanwhile, Sky has also added a section to its customer service website.

While I’m not sure how long discussions have been going on, this must have been a while. I know this because sometime around October last year, I completed a Sky customer research survey in which many of the questions seemed to be about how much I valued Discovery’s channels, and whether I’d continue as a customer if I lost access to their channels.

A few thoughts on this:

  • I’m sure Sky is trying to save cash after its record breaking Premier League rights bid. While they’ve not passed full costs onto consumers, they’ve clearly cut back in places, reducing coverage of some sports, and cutting overheads where possible. They do continue to invest in original programming however.
  • According to BARB, in December 2016 the Discovery Group had a 1.69% share of viewing. But this includes Quest, a free-to-air channel which is potentially unaffected by this dispute.
  • Discovery is clearly investing in Europe. It took full ownership of Eurosport in 2015, and has also bought a large swathe of exclusive European Olympic rights beginning in 2018 in some territories.
  • Sky announced a 9% fall in operating profits today as a direct result of their increased Premier League costs.
  • This is not just a UK affair. The disagreement extends to Sky Deutchland as well.
  • Eurosport calls itself the “Home of Cycling” and it does indeed carry vastly more cycling coverage than any other channel. This ironically means that the Team Sky cycling team (fully owned by Sky) will be largely invisible to Sky TV viewers post the 31st January if the dispute is not resolved. At least until the Tour de France which is also carried on ITV4.
  • My favourite FAQ on the Sky site is: “I regularly watched Eurosport. What can I watch on Sky instead?” To which the answer seems to be Premier League football, rugby union, cricket and rugby league. None of which is much use if I actually wanted to watch cycling, downhill skiing, tennis or snooker. Sky Sports and Eurosport UK have almost no sporting crossovers!
  • When live sports are affected, it’s not uncommon for viewers to look for “alternatives.” These aren’t always legal. If your favourite sport goes off-air, and you’re not willing to change TV provider, that mate who’s mentioned how easy it is to set up a Kodi box and pull in illegal feeds, might open your eyes to how easy piracy is. And that doesn’t help any sports TV channels. Why pay if you can get them free?*

In the meantime, do I pay £19.99 for a year’s subscription to Eurosport Player? It’s on sale until 31st January when the price reverts to £59.99? It works with Chromecast. Paying would be hedging my bets. And if the channels do disappear, then a conversation with Sky’s retention team might see me recouping that cost.

* I’m not advocating this, but it must surely be a temptation.

An Egregiously Bad Chart

chartitv

The chart above is screen-grabbed from an otherwise excellent ITV4 documentary called When Football Changed the World. It looked at the state of the game as the old First Division broke away to form the Premier League at the end of the 80s and start of the 90s. It interviewed plenty of key figures from the period both on and off the pitch.

At time of writing, it’s on the ITV Hub and is well worth watching. I’ve no doubt it’ll get a few more outings on ITV4 over the coming weeks and months.

But that chart is just dreadful for a couple of reasons.

The documentary was trying to illustrate the spiralling increase in UK Premier League costs over time. The first deal starting with the 1992/93 season was indeed worth £191m, and the latest beginning this season is worth a cumulative £5.1bn.

To put that in context, the latest deal is nearly 27 times the original deal!

Whereas, looking at the graphpaper-styled background this graphic is using, it looks like 5.1bn is about 1.5 times as big as 191m.

They’ve just not used a proper vertical scale on the chart. Revenues have risen extraordinarily, and this chart just doesn’t show it.

In fact, the chart should look something like this:

Just using proper scaling shows the quite stratospheric rise in rights.

But in fact, the value of the overall deal each time doesn’t really show the whole story. The first deal that started in the 1992/93 season was for 5 years, whereas since 2001/02, they’ve been for three years. So if we look at the rise in terms of cost per season rather than per deal, we get this.

Note that since the changes only really effect the first couple of deals, the charts look pretty similar. But the growth per season is actually 44x the price of the first Premier League deal rather than 27x if you consider each deal in isolation.

The other thing that has changed is the number of matches covered by each deal. Basically the number of matches under each deal tends to increase over time. And that does mitigate some of that inflation. The first deal saw each Premier League fixture costing Sky about £600,000 each. This season, on average games cost £10.2m each. Again, it’s a massive jump, but it’s 16x the first deal’s cost, which goes some way to mitigate the 44x increase in rights costs per season.

I think the per season chart is the fairest though. This represents the real amount going into the game from TV companies. And to the clubs, looking at their much healthier bottom lines, that’s what matters.

Note: I’ve tried to use the widely reported values of each Premier League TV deal, but the 2001/02-2003/04 deal in particular seems a little opaque with some conflicting numbers. More recent deals are widely reported because they have a material effect on PLC’s bottom lines.

My Problem with Reporting of the Fancy Bears Hack

There is much wrong in the world of sport, including doping.

Intrinsically most sports bodies are placed in tough positions, often at odds with their own self-interests. Should a sport admit to a doping problem when it may damage its own future?

Then there’s WADA – the World Anti-Doping Authority. It has an ineffectual leader in Craig Readie, has been criticised for not doing enough, and they’ve been hacked by a group calling itself “Fancy Bears.” While it doesn’t seem to be definitive, it would seem the hacker group is Russian, and there’s a widely-held belief that the hack is in response to the banning of some Russian competitors at the Olympics in Rio (as well as all Russian Paralympic competitors).

This followed what would seem to be prima facie evidence of state sponsored doping conducted in Russia in recent years, and notably during the Sochi Winter Olympics.

The target of the hack group seems to be Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUE); certificates given to athletes that allow them to continue to compete, while taking drugs that would otherwise be deemed illegal. TUEs are usually granted at a fairly high level, with doctors representing the governing bodies determining whether they are allowable.

While an athlete’s overall health is, like anybody else’s, a matter for them and their doctor, some have chosen to talk about them publicly in the past.

In this instance, the hacking group is presenting details of the TUEs of select athletes. And when I say select, I mean predominantly American, British and German. Curiously they have not published the details of any TUEs given to Russian athletes.

And that’s where my problem lies.

This isn’t like Wikileaks putting up a full database and letting people sift through it. It’s a staggered and potentially incomplete leak with a particular story to spin. And the press seems to be falling hook, line and sinker for it.

The weekend’s newspapers were full of stories about the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. But since it’s an incomplete set of records, we’re not getting a full picture. We don’t know, for example, how many TUEs are awarded full stop. Perhaps the majority of athletes have them, or have had them? We simply don’t know.

Instead we’re being drip fed records to support a hacker group’s own story.

Now I do think that there’s a very legitimate set of questions to ask around the use of TUEs. For example, if an athlete is so ill that they need strong drugs, should they be competing at all? Some sports may inherently cause health issues that mean many competitors are on similar sets of drugs e.g. asthma amongst swimmers and cyclists. Again, we don’t know. R

The problem is that we’re falling into the hands of selective leakers who are dictating the story.

Maybe all TUE certificates should be made public when they’re awarded. On the other hand, health records are normally very confidential documents. Many of us prefer not to have all our maladies out in the open. Should part of deal of being a professional athlete be that your medical records are an open book?

One way or another, a hack took place, and once the information is out there, it can’t be ignored. But let’s not forget the bigger picture, where all things seem to point east…

Champions’ League on BT

Since I had a look at the Europa League viewership the other day, I thought it was only fair to consider the Champions’ League Final – particularly as some every-so-slightly misleading press information seems to have escaped.

First off, it’s worth saying that this year’s final was one of the worst directed finals I’ve seen in ages. Technically it felt all over the place, with inappropriate cutaways, overuse of the Spidercam, using it for replays of action for which it wasn’t really suitable. Worst of all were the continued crowd reaction shots.

It’s a repeated issue at sports events that directors task some camera operators with finding people “emoting” as much as possible on screen. As often as not, it’ll be a woman the camera lands on, despite the crowd being heavily male skewed. While I’d love to think it was making the sport accessible for both men and women, in fact, it’s an eye candy thing, and frankly it’s outright sexist. See also “podium girls”, coverage of much cricket around the world, and women with umbrellas at the start of motorsport events.

Worst than all of that was the rush to cut to a young girl supporting the losing Atletico Madrid, in floods of tears at full time, when there were plenty of celebrating Real Madrid fans to show. Showing despondent losing fans is fine, but featuring a small child is outright nasty.

UEFA need to get a grip. I don’t know who was responsible, but it was a mess. The sound for the needless opening ceremony at the start was abysmal (at least watching via BT Sport), and indeed either the event director or BT themselves lost interest in Alicia Keys preferring to show players waiting in the tunnel. It didn’t get much better for Andrea Bocelli who had to sing the pointless “anthem” that Man City keeps getting fined for booing.

Leaving aside Pepe’s appalling antics, what about the overall audience figures?

Well unlike with the Europa League, there don’t seem to be actual figures easily available. The Guardian’s report, which, like that in The Drum, seem to be drawn from a BT press release, mentions 4.3m watching with a peak audience of 3.3m.

That’s a bit odd. What you normally get is a peak audience, and then an average for the whole programme. The average is necessarily lower than the peak.

Therefore 4.3m must be the number of people who tuned in for at least a few minutes over the course of the game. A reach figure. Interesting, but not how TV ratings are usually reported. You get a big number, but it doesn’t reflect the audience of the match itself.

Based on a peak of 3.3m, it suggests an overall viewership of, perhaps, 3m. (I’ll update this if I can find an accurate number, but I think I’m being generous).

Let’s put that in perspective and compare with ITV’s audiences in recent years.

DateTeamsResultChannelAudience (m)
28 May 2016Real Madrid - Atletico Madrid1-1 (5-3 pens)BT Sport Europe/BT Showcase~3
6 June 2015Barcelona - Juventus3-1ITV4.31
24 May 2014Real Madrid - Atletico Madrid4-1ITV5.16
25 May 2013Bayern Munich - Borussia Dortmund
2-1ITV3.71
19 May 2012Chelsea - Bayern Munich1-1 (4-3 pens)ITV7.00

So clearly the lowest audience, although last year’s Barcelona-Juventus game was a little low itself. The last British team to make the final was Chelsea in 2012 when 7m people watched.

Ah yes! But this doesn’t consider YouTube!

Well as I said previously, making the match available on YouTube is smart, especially since it’s far more robust than most broadcasters’ own video players. But we need to be very wary of the numbers being bandied about.

“The telecoms giant, which said that it aimed to make the finals as accessible as possible despite paying £897m for the pay-TV rights, said about 1.8 million viewers watched the match live for free on YouTube.”

Now I’ve no doubt that BT got some reasonably detailed metrics from Google on viewers. But I’d need to be persuaded that the 1.8m number is an average viewership over the duration of the programme. More likely it’s based on YouTube “views.” That would tend to mean 1.8m views of at least 30 seconds, at which point YouTube considers you a viewer. A lot of views, but not the same as a lot of people or a large cumulative audience.

If I logged in from time to time during the course of the fixture to see how it was progressing, that might mean that I was considered another view on each occassion.

If I started watching the match on TV, but was then forced to watch in another room on YouTube because someone else in the household wanted to watch Britain’s Got Talent, I’d potentially be double counted.

On the other hand, I might have Cast YouTube to my TV set and watched with half a dozen friends. YouTube views isn’t able to help with this situation either.

Video views online are not the same as a TV audience.

Simply adding together peak audiences and YouTube views across the two European finals is not what anyone should be doing.

Considering that no British teams were in the final, BT didn’t achieve a dreadful audience. But reports that say the two finals were “watched by more than 12 million across digital and TV,” are utterly misleading, counting the same people perhaps multiple times.

Whether UEFA thinks that it’s premium club competition was as available to all as much as it might have been will be for UEFA and BT to discuss. But let’s not believe all the hype and dubious numbers.

Watching European Football Finals on TV

Well the first results are in. BT is very pleased that BT Sport got a record audience on Wednesday night for the Europa League Final – the first big final of their three year exclusive contract for UEFA Champions’ League and Europa League coverage.

According to Media Guardian, it drew an average of 1.6m viewers on BT Sport Europe, and a further 606,000 viewers on BT Sport Showcase, giving a combined audience of 2.2m.

If you’d wanted to watch the game on Wednesday, then Virgin and Sky viewers could tune to BT Sport Europe which was unencrypted for the fixture meaning all could watch. If you were a Freeview viewer, then you could navigate your way to channel 59 where BT Sport Showcase mostly acts as a “barker” channel encouraging you to subscribe, but on Wednesday was showing the game.

When BT won the rights to these European games in 2013, it promised UEFA that each British team in the competitions would appear at least once free to air. And in the first season of the deal, they did all appear precisely once. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to know when games are free to air, and although BT did do some marketing, you might have had to search.

Frankly I don’t believe the average viewer even knows BT Showcase exists, let alone that you could watch some football on the channel. And yes, I know BT did buy some advertising to promote the final including, for example, the back page of Metro on Wednesday.

When it came to the final, BT announced a deal that sees the games stream on YouTube too. Sensible, and it should be added that YouTube viewing is not included in that 2.2m. Be wary of any numbers you see banded around, as they’re unlikely to be directly comparable to the average audience figures that BARB publish. Nonetheless, YouTube does at least mean the game was accessible if you knew where to look, even if a mobile device is not the best way to watch football.

But you have to think that a match featuring a club the size of Liverpool would have achieved much greater viewing figures overall had it been free-to-air.

I dug into some old fixtures and came up with this list of performances over the last five Europea League finals.

DateTeamsResultChannelAudience (m)
18 May 2016Sevilla v Liverpool3-1BT Sport Europe/BT Showcase2.20
27 May 2015Sevilla v Dnipro3-2ITV40.80
14 May 2014Sevilla v Benfica0-0 (4-2 pens)ITV41.21
14 May 2013Chelsea v Benfica2-1ITV15.66
9 May 2012Atletico Madrid v Athletic Bilbao3-0C51.46

Put into that context and 2.20m is pretty low. Yes – other games have had lower audiences, but then they weren’t exactly “must watch” for UK viewers.

When Chelsea was in the final in 2013 it was watched by 5.66m. Liverpool would probably have done better than that on ITV.

For what it’s worth, 885,000 people watched the highlights on ITV at 10.45 – around 1.5x the number who watched on BT Sport Showcase. How many didn’t even realise they could watch live?

There have been rumours that UEFA is unhappy with BT’s performance with their free-to-air games. It may be too late for this contract, but these low viewerships do affect the revenue UEFA brings in in sponsorship. But then BT is paying through the nose for exclusivity.

It should be said that these are overnights for this year, and might rise fractionally once delayed viewing is added – although it’d be a particular type of masochistic Liverpool fan who wanted to watch the game later. And I really have no idea how popular YouTube was.

The Champions’ League Final will be interesting to cast an eye over in a week or so. With no British club in it, the interest will be lower. But just how low will it be?

If I was BT I would have sub-licenced these games to ITV or C5. I’m sure some kind of a deal could have been done where the game was presented to audiences at “BT Sport on ITV” or some such thing. (ESPN uses this model with its sister network ABC in the US – although they’re obviously both Disney companies). ITV would generate much bigger ad revenues which could potentially be shared, UEFA is kept happy, and BT gets a free showcase to promote its ongoing coverage of the full competition next season.

Live Football on the Radio

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No, I’m not writing about the new Premier League contracts for UK radio. They do seem a bit overdue though, and I’m slightly sad that Absolute Radio has made clear that it’s not bidding for live coverage from next season. So I expect some kind of carve up between Five Live and Talksport, with Talksport 2 perhaps getting the Absolute Radio second choice 3pm on a Saturday while they do “around the grounds” on the main service.

Anyway, we’ll wait and see.

No, I thought I’d write about a couple of my experiences of the (almost) final day of the Premier League this season. As ever, all the games kick off simultaneously at 3pm. Sky Sports tend to show about three of the games live on TV, while Five Live and Absolute Radio each broadcast a game on the radio.

I was at Arsenal’s final game of the season against Aston Villa. While most of the league had been decided, there was still a small chance that if Spurs failed to get a draw away against an already-relegated Newcastle, and Arsenal beat bottom-of-the-table and also already-relegated Aston Villa, then we’d finish ahead of them for the 21st season in a row.

Small consolation for underachieving in a very a hit and miss season that had season 5000-1 shots Leicester storm away with the title, but these things matter in North London.

There was also a small chance for Man Utd to just pip Man City to final Champions’ League spot. This was the fixture that TV and radio was most interested in. Gaining that spot makes a massive difference to the clubs involved.

So I brought my Pure Move 2500 DAB radio with me to listen at the game – primarily to discover what was happening at St James’ Park where Spurs were playing.

Now you might think that in this day and age, we’ve moved on from radio, and mobile websites and apps are where it’s all at. I could even stream Sky Sports on my phone with Sky Go.

Well that’s fine in principle, but have you tried to get mobile data in a venue with 60,000 other people? Let me tell you that it doesn’t matter who your operator is, or what kind of 4G they’re offering, you’re going to struggle to send a text or update Twitter. Unusually, we were sitting quite high up in the stadium and could probably “see” mobile masts from further afield, but data was a struggle.

So for the first half I put a headphone in my ear from time to time to see what was happening. Obviously there was confused news from Old Trafford where a security alert would lead to the game against Bournemouth being cancelled (It was later reported to be a dummy device that had been mistakenly left in the stadium after a private security company had conducted a test. I imagine heads will roll.)

Arsenal scored early to go 1-0 up, and I knew that Newcastle were leading against Spurs. Things were looking good. But it wouldn’t take much for Spurs to get an equaliser. I took my headphones out to be sociable.

When midway through the first half, the crowd roared, I knew that meant another goal had gone in for Newcastle. I popped my headphones back in and when Five Live threw to the Emirates, they reported that the crowd here had cheered the second Newcastle goal.

Then the presenters got a little supercilious. They noted that Five Live had reported the goal a good thirty seconds or more prior to that. Was technology actually slowing things down? With everyone using apps to get the score, they were doing so on a larger than necessary delay? The old-fashioned “wireless” was faster!

They had a point. We were getting our information slower. So for the second half, I didn’t remove my headphone.

Arsenal were still only 1-0 up, and although dominating, had not scored a second goal for safety. Meanwhile Spurs had got a goal back, and now Newcastle were down to 10 men. This wasn’t good news. It didn’t matter what the Arsenal result was if Spurs gained a draw. We’d finish behind them.

Then the crowd roared again. It was 3-1!

Except, I’d heard no such thing on Five Live. But the joyous guys in front were pointing at the goal on the BBC Sport app. On the radio, Five Live was confirming the Man Utd game to be off, talking about other games, and not mentioning Newcastle.

Finally they reported that there was a penalty at Newcastle and crossed to the game. We then got [delayed] commentary of the goal. It was indeed 3-1.

But that had taken a full minute or more to report.

Given the comments earlier, they couldn’t complain about fans using apps, while they were not instantly reporting goals!

Yes – it was a potentially very serious situation in Old Trafford where the bomb squad had been called to check a device that we now know was safe. But it’s probably not best to pipe up about how good radio is when it actually wasn’t nearly as fast as other means.

It was about then that I realised I was listening to the wrong station. BBC London carries a lot of Spurs games, so I retuned and listened to the rest of the Newcastle game enthralled, as Spurs collapsed and the commentators could hardly believe what they were seeing.

I was able to relay 4-1 and then 5-1 scorelines in rapid succession to those sitting around me – far faster than anybody else!

So yes, radio can be the fastest. But don’t oversell yourselves…

That all said, if any of the big Euro’s games go to penalties, switch on the radio. Things like HD encoding and satellite delays mean that you’ll hear the results on the radio a good 3-5 seconds ahead of television, even on DAB. So you’ll be put out of your misery faster!

And of course you should still always carry a radio to the final game of the season.