Football faces a major television shake-up, with 25 per cent more Premier League matches screened, Sunday fixtures kicking off at 6.30pm and the Saturday 3pm blackout dropped to boost the women’s game.
Weekends will be crammed with wall-to-wall action as the men’s top tier finalises a new rights auction that will see four televised kick-off slots on Sundays alone.
Extra space in the busy match calendar to sell off at least 50 extra matches for the next cycle is set to be freed up by plans to send profits soaring in the Women’s Super League. Telegraph Sport understands club executives gathered in London on Monday to advance discussions around creating a code or charter for what they hope will be the first billion pound women’s football league.
A new private equity firm, ‘NewCo’, is being set up to run the WSL and Championship independently from the Football Association. Sources say talks are now advancing around seeking necessary permissions to move televised matches from the Sunday evening slot to a designated Saturday afternoon slot in a bid to grow audiences.
That is an ideal outcome for TV rights executives at the men’s Premier League, which is understood to have fended off suggestions from both clubs and broadcasters in recent months over the 3pm slot.
At least one of English football’s growing army of American owners had been lobbying behind the scenes to abandon the 3pm blackout. Two Premier League executives also told Telegraph Sport on Tuesday that they would also be open to breaking a rule stretching back at least a decade before the modern Premier League was formed.
Some broadcasters were also rallying behind a potential rule change, with one telling the Premier League that Saturday afternoons were a “gateway drug” for pirate streams.
However, with women’s football presenting a less politically contentious option for the 3pm slot, insiders suggest there will be four designated kick-offs for the Premier League on Sundays between noon and 6.30pm. The main controversy as far as fans groups are concerned will be around the later kick-offs. The Community Shield kick-off between Manchester City and Arsenal was brought forward by 90 minutes – from 5.30pm to 4pm – following complaints by fans about return journey on Sundays.
More matches will also be available for the Friday and Monday slots in the next TV deal, with sources close to talks expecting five sets of 50 match packs to be put out to tender next month.
The league is also understood to have been given permission from Government to sell off rights packages across four years rather than three for the first time. This would make the league more closely aligned with models in Europe which have started adopting auctions every five years. The major advantage of this shift is for new bidders attempting to get a foothold in football broadcasting as short-term packages are higher risk when investing in production.
Club executives could be briefed on rights sell-off plans as they gather in central London for the league’s shareholders meeting on Thursday. With more European fixtures than ever, some teams have expressed frustrations at the lack of televised action over the coming weekends. This weekend, because of European fixtures, there are several 2pm Sunday fixtures which will not be televised while Super Sunday will be missing from Sky schedules the following weekend because of the Ryder Cup.
Despite more pressure on the fixture calendar than ever, sources close to the Premier League maintained they remained committed to Article 48 of Uefa’s rules, which allow members to designate a two-and-a-half-hour weekend slot when live football is banned from screens.
However, the FA’s director of women’s football, Baroness Sue Campbell, first floated the possibility to MPs in July that WSL matches can be moved to drive up audiences. “Whatever we do, we need regular opportunities to view games,” she said.
The current Sky Sports and BBC’s agreement with the WSL ends next summer. Speaking at a Culture, Media and Sport Committee meeting on women’s sport on Wednesday, Baroness Campbell said the “random” nature of TV scheduling was affecting growth.
Valuations will also be a major unknown for the men’s top tier as domestic valuations have gone untested since February 2018 when an initial £4.5 billion deal was agreed. Amazon has since come to the market and a three-year rollover in cycles at a price closer to £5 billion was agreed midway through the pandemic.
BT Sport – the main rival to Sky – became TNT Sports in July following its buyout by Discovery and will remain one of the big two bidders. Under the current rolling deal due to expire in 2025, the 200 available games are split into seven packages shared between Sky, BT and Amazon. Sky Sports dominated the current UK cycle, with four sets of rights, equating to 128 matches per season. BT Sport soon to be TNT Sports – owns two packages – one for the Saturday 1230 kick offs and the other for two midweek rounds.
Amazon bought one package, which allows its Prime service to broadcast one set of Bank Holiday Christmas fixtures and a set of midweek fixtures. In the latest auction, the total number of available matches is likely to increase to 250 but be split between five packs. New contenders in the process are expected to include DAZN.
Since 2016, domestic rights have largely plateaued but record Premier League revenues have been buoyed by a booming overseas market. NBC signed a £2billion agreement in late 2021 to exclusively show the Premier League to its audience in the US alone. The overseas market is now estimated to be worth in excess of £5bn to clubs.