More Premier League games could be shown free-to-air after rise in lockdown viewers

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Premier League matches may continue to be shown on free-to-air channels over the coming years with broadcasters reported to be considering a shared model.

When the country went into lockdown, government emphasis went into ways on how to encourage the public to stay at home, with football high on the agenda.

Eventually, the 19/20 league campaign resumed with every match shown on one channel or another: BT Sport and Sky Sports getting most, but BBC and Amazon also showing a handful of games for free.

Now, with the season completed and the viewing data being complete, it appears that a continuation of the system is possible – after the subscription companies actually benefitted more from having games viewed elsewhere.

The Telegraph reports that a “hybrid” rights agreement could be extended, or at least brought into the reckoning for the next cycle of rights bidding.

“Momentum is building for a serious conversation about the way we negotiated future rights deals with the Premier League,” said a source from within one broadcast company.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 14, 2019: A silhouette of television cameras during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Newcastle United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“Give free-to-view fans a taste of what the subscribers get is likely to give them an appetite to want more.”

Essentially, the subscription companies saw a rise in demand for the big games after huge numbers of fans were given the lesser matches for free: all four BBC fixtures averaged doubled the number of viewers that Sky Sports typically manage for a game.

Free-to-air games were one of two big changes post-lockdown in the football world, with the other being the removal of the Saturday 3pm blackout.

It would be a long-overdue step forward if this ruling was permanently removed, given the numbers of people who find ways to watch those matches anyway – and clearly the data is showing that having more people watching is beneficial to all parties.

It’ll be some time before stadiums are full of fans again, but those who do go to games will, in time, return. More games on TV has been great, but the empty stadiums have also reminded match-going supporters of what they miss, and of how much they are missed in turn by the sport.

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