Fans of Premier League clubs can expect fewer Saturday afternoon kick-offs but more matches on television from the 2019-20 season, as the league is set to sell more games to broadcasters.
The current domestic television deal, worth £5.14billion, still has two years to run but the Premier League has promised broadcast industry regulator Ofcom it will increase the number of games that can be televised from 168 to at least 190.
This commitment was a condition of the deal struck when Virgin Media dropped its complaint to Ofcom after missing out on any of the seven packages of games which were auctioned in 2015. Sky paid nearly £4.2billion for five of those packages and BT picked up the other two for £960million.
But at a Premier League meeting in Harrogate on Thursday, the clubs were given several different options on how the next domestic deal might work, including some that would mean more than 200 of the 380 games a season being televised.
It is understood this would mean more games on bank holidays and weekday nights but the Saturday 3pm slot would remain closed to broadcasters, to avoid conflict with clubs further down the league pyramid concerned about the impact on attendances.
More midweek games, though, would risk annoying UEFA, which has already said it is unhappy about domestic games being scheduled at the same time as its club competitions, not to mention the possible impact of more late nights for travelling fans and youngsters.
But the league knows it must continue to look for new ways to create bidding contests between rival broadcasters, particularly as the Premier League’s biggest clubs have raised the issue of overseas broadcast rights again.
Currently, they are split evenly between the 20 clubs and each team banked £39million this season.
But as former Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre memorably pointed out in 2011, there are not many Bolton fans in Kuala Lumpur and the Premier League’s biggest clubs would love to be able to copy Barcelona and Real Madrid in negotiating their own foreign deals.
That, however, would break one of the Premier League’s central tenets – the collective selling of broadcast rights. Under the collective approach there is a broadly equitable distribution of the proceeds, which has been credited with making the league more competitive. Any change to that approach would require support from 14 of the 20 clubs in a vote, which appears very unlikely.
The debate about how to extract more money from broadcasters is also taking place within the English Football League, as it announced on Thursday it would not take up the option to extend its current £90million-a-year deal with Sky Sports for the 2019-20 season.
Acting on advice from external experts, the domestic broadcast rights for the EFL’s 72 clubs will be put out to tender no later than week commencing June 19.
Derby owner Mel Morris has been a vocal critic of the EFL’s deal with Sky Sports all year, saying it greatly undervalues the clubs’ appeal, and it is understood BT is keen on adding more English club football to its existing offer.