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English football on television

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

English football on television has been broadcast since 1938. Since the establishment of the Premier League in 1992, English football has become a very lucrative industry. As of the 2013-14 season, domestic television rights for the 20-team Premier League are worth £1 billion a year.[1] The league generates €2.2 billion per year in domestic and international television rights.[2]

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See Sports broadcasting contracts in the United Kingdom#Association football

Early history

Early years

The BBC started its television service in 1936, although it was nearly a year before the very first televised match of football was screened – a specially-arranged friendly match between Arsenal and Arsenal Reserves at Highbury on 16 September 1937.[3] This was followed by the first televised international match, between England and Scotland on 9 April 1938, and the first televised FA Cup final followed soon after, on 30 April the same year, between Huddersfield Town and Preston North End.[4]

In October 1946, the first live televised football match was broadcast by the BBC from Barnet's home ground Underhill. Twenty minutes of the game against Wealdstone were televised in the first half and thirty five minutes of the second half before it became too dark.

However, coverage of football television did not expand and for the next two decades the only matches screened were FA Cup finals and the odd England v. Scotland match. The first FA Cup tie other than the final to be shown was a fifth round match between Charlton Athletic and Blackburn Rovers on 8 February 1947, but matches were sparing and only games in London could be broadcast, for technical reasons.[5]

The dawn of regular coverage

The advent of floodlighting led to the creation of the European Cup, designed as a midweek cup competition for the champions of European nations, in 1955. The newly formed British television station ITV saw televised football as an ideal way of gaining a share of the audience from their only rival broadcaster, the BBC. The BBC meanwhile, started showing brief highlights of matches (with a maximum of five minutes) on its Saturday-night Sports Special programme from 10 September 1955, until its cancellation in 1963. The first games featured were both from Division One — Luton Town v Newcastle United and Charlton Athletic v Everton. Kenneth Wolstenholme and Cliff Michelmore were the commentators.[6]

An early attempt at live league football was made in 1960-61, when ITV agreed a deal worth £150,000 with the Football League to screen 26 matches; the very first live league match was on Saturday 10 September 1960 between Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers at Bloomfield Road. The match kicked off at 6:50 pm with live coverage starting at 7:30 under the title The Big Game. A major blow to the TV moguls was the absence of big box-office draw Stanley Matthews through injury, and the game ended 1-0 to Bolton in front of a half-empty stadium.[7]

However, ITV withdrew from the deal after first Arsenal and then Tottenham Hotspur refused them permission to shoot at their matches against Newcastle United and Aston Villa respectively, and the Football League demanded a dramatic increase in player appearance payments.[5] Both matches received highlights coverage from the BBC on Sports Special instead.

However, ITV moved again into football, albeit tentatively, in 1962 when Anglia Television launched Match of the Week, which showed highlights of matches from around East Anglia. The first match shown was Ipswich Town's 3-2 defeat at the hands of Wolves at Portman Road on 22 September 1962.[8] Tyne Tees Television in the North East of England began broadcasting local matches soon after under the title Shoot. League football was soon to gain a nationwide audience once more. In 1964, the BBC introduced Match of the Day - originally shown on BBC2 and intended to train BBC cameramen for the forthcoming 1966 World Cup. The first match was Liverpool's 3-2 victory over Arsenal at Anfield on 22 August, and the estimated audience of 20,000 was considerably less than the number of paying customers at the ground. At the time BBC2 could only be received in the London area, although by the end of Match of the Day's first season it could be sampled in the Midlands. The programme transferred to BBC1 in the wake of England's 1966 World Cup win and at last could be received by television viewers across the UK.

The World Cup

There was live coverage of World Cup football on UK screens in 1954 and 1958 - however only selected matches were available. In 1954, Kenneth Wolstenholme provided commentary on the few televised matches for BBC from Switzerland - including the quarter-final between Hungary and Brazil. A thunderstorm over the Alps cut off the picture and many irate viewers wrote in to complain that the BBC had pulled the plug.[9] The 1958 tournament in Sweden saw a greater range of matches thanks to the new Eurovision Network; the BBC and ITV both screened matches, although the networks had to overcome opposition to the coverage from the Scottish FA, who were worried that attendances at Junior football matches might be hit.[10] The 1962 World Cup in Chile was covered in delayed form by the BBC with film having to be carried by air via the United States back to Britain. Matches were generally seen three days after they were played, though every match was covered by the BBC with commentary.

With intercontinental communications satellites in their infancy and videotape a new advance, the first tournament to gain widespread international live coverage was the 1966 tournament, which was held in England. The tournament, which England won, increased the popularity of the sport. With more football viewers than ever, Match of the Day thrived — switching from BBC Two to BBC One to reach a wider audience. ITV's regional coverage had also expanded during this period with London weekend company ATV launching Star Soccer in October 1965, Southern Television's Southern Soccer and ABC's World of Soccer also began to appear regularly in the TV Times Sunday schedules. London Weekend Television's The Big Match started in 1968, and eventually the entire ITV network's football coverage would be broadcast under its title.

Rise of live League coverage

The demand for football grew through the 1970s and early 1980s, and the decision to start screening live league matches was almost inevitable; a deal was struck for the start of the 1983-84 season and the first live league match since 1960 was screened on ITV, between Tottenham Hotspur and Nottingham Forest, on 2 October 1983. Spurs would also feature in the BBC's first live league match at Manchester United on a Friday night a few weeks later.

By the late 1980s the value of live TV coverage had rocketed; while a two-year contract for rights in 1983 had cost just £5.2m, the four-year contract exclusively landed by ITV in 1988 cost £44m, a fourfold increase per year. There was now a situation where live football was on TV almost every Sunday afternoon from about November onwards, as ITV screened top-flight football most weeks and the BBC had the rights to the FA Cup that occupied other weekends.

With top-flight football proving particularly lucrative, in 1992 the clubs of the Football League First Division voted to quit the league en masse and set up their own league, the Premier League. They eventually opted to agree a deal with Sky Sports rather than ITV or the BBC, meaning leading live top-flight football was no longer available on terrestrial television. ITV continued to show second tier matches on a regional basis for the next four seasons until they also transferred to Sky Sports, apart from one season (2001–02) when they were shown on its unsuccessful ITV Digital platform.

Premier League era

Football on television today

Fans watch an England international in HDTV in a cinema, 2006
Fans watch an England international in HDTV in a cinema, 2006

Coverage of Premier League now dominates football on English television, especially in financial terms; the contracts agreed between the league and broadcasters BSkyB in 1992 and 1997 were worth £191.5m and £670m respectively. Sky were also able to show more live games than previously, with several games live on many matchdays (originally Sundays and Mondays). However, the European Union objected to what it saw as a monopoly on television rights and demanded the 2007 contract be split into separate packages of 23 games; eventually Sky won four of the six available packages, with the other two were taken by Setanta Sports. Setanta went bankrupt in 2009 with its packages taken over by ESPN. From 2010/11, Sky have five packages and ESPN one. The top tier still has a presence on terrestrial television in highlights form on Match of the Day.[11]

From the 2009/10 season, live coverage of the Football League returned to British terrestrial television for the first time since 2001 with the BBC securing 10 live Championship (second tier) games per season, as well as Football League highlights after Match of the Day. Sky also showed live lower league football while Setanta also showed large numbers of Conference National games before the channels demise.

There is also extensive coverage of numerous Cup competitions. Every match in the Champions League (formerly European Cup) is available on BT Sport. BT Sport and the BBC broadcast the FA Cup while Sky show the League Cup. ITV and BT Sport show the Europa League with even the Football League Trophy getting live television exposure on Sky Sports.

Premier League satellite decoder case

English football on television
CourtEuropean Court of Justice

The Premier League holds an exclusive contract with broadcasters British Sky Broadcasting. Some public houses install foreign satellite television decoders hardware to enable customers to watch live Premier League games in their establishment.

The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that EU law on the free movement of goods should be applied to the decoder cards.

In 2007 Karen Murphy, a Portsmouth publican, was convicted under s297(1) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA), in that on two occasions she: ‘… dishonestly received a programme included in a broadcasting service provided from a place in the United Kingdom with intent to avoid payment of any charge applicable to the reception of the programme.’ In 2012, the European Court ruled that blocking foreign satellite TV breached EU single market rules.[12] The English high court quashed Mrs Murphy's convictions.

Worldwide coverage

Promoted as "The Greatest Show On Earth",[13][14] the Premier League is the most-watched football league in the world, broadcast in 212 territories to 643 million homes and a potential TV audience of 4.7 billion people;.[15] The Premier League's production arm, Premier League Productions, is operated by IMG Productions and is responsible for producing all content for its international television partners.

United States

In the United States, coverage for most of the 2000s and early 2010s was shared between Fox Soccer/Fox Soccer Plus and ESPN, with Fox Deportes and ESPN Deportes holding Spanish language rights.[16] NBC Sports (primarily through NBCSN, NBC, CNBC, and USA Network) replaced ESPN and Fox Soccer as the exclusive broadcaster of the league in the US (in both English and Spanish; Telemundo and NBC Universo now carry Spanish-language coverage) beginning in the 2013–14 season, as the result of a new three-year, $250 million USD deal with the league, including 20 matches that start at 5:30pm UK time on Saturdays free-to-air on the main NBC network (12:30pm American Eastern).[17] Other games are carried through gametime-only channels known as "Premier League Extra Time", and all games are carried through NBC Sports' website and the NBC Sports mobile app with TV Everywhere authentication, with USA Network carrying matches in lieu of NBCSN during the 2014 Winter Olympics and 2016 Summer Olympics. Beginning with the 2017–18 season, all matches not shown on the linear TV channels will be available on Premier League Pass, a subscription service hosted by NBC Sports Gold.[18][19] Survival Sunday coverage (under the banner Championship Sunday) will be carried on the last match day by ten NBCUniversal networks, along with Telemundo and mun2.[20] ESPN properties air the FA Cup from 2018/19 season through subscription service hosted by ESPN+. [21]

On 10 August 2015 NBC Sports announced it had reached a six-year extension with the Premier League to broadcast the football league through the 2021-22 season.[22][23] The value of the licensing deal rose by 100% with the deal estimated to be worth $1 billion (£640 million); double the previous value.[24] Traditionally a three-year deal, NBC Sports were able to double that length, as Premier League viewership on NBC and NBCSN averaged a record 479,000 viewers in the 2014-15 season — up 9% from the record NBC Sports set during its debut covering the Premier League in 2013-14 (438,000 viewers), and up 118% from 2012-13, when coverage still aired on Fox Soccer and ESPN/ESPN2 (220,000 viewers).[25] Along with improved ratings, NBC Sports has been widely praised for its coverage of the Premier League, while Fox Sports and ESPN have been criticized for neglecting coverage, in favour of other major U.S. sports they also cover.[26][27][28][29]


The Premier League is particularly popular in Asia, where it is the most widely distributed sports programme.[30] In India, the matches are broadcast live on ESPN and Star Sports. Premier League broadcasts began in India in August 1996. Liverpool's 2-0 victory over Arsenal was the first Monday night game broadcast.[31] In China, data from 2003 suggested that matches were attracting television audiences between 100 million and 360 million, more than any other foreign sport.[32] In 2012, Chinese rights were awarded to Super Sports in a six-year agreement that began in the 2013/14 season.[33] Due to its popularity in Asia, the league has held four pre-season tournaments there, the only Premier League affiliated tournaments ever to have been held outside England.[34] The Premier League Asia Trophy has been played in Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and China and involves three Premier League clubs playing against a prominent team from the host nation, often the national side.[35]


In Canada, Sportsnet owned the Premier League rights for three years from the 2010–11 season. Select games (particularly those aired by ESPN) were sub-licensed to TSN.[36] Starting in the 2013–14 season, the matches are divided between Sportsnet and TSN: some of TSN's broadcasts utilize the NBC Sports feed rather than the primary world feed. Sportsnet holds rights to the FA Cup, although all but the finals are televised on its subscription service Sportsnet World.

In Australia, Optus broadcasts all of the season's 380 matches live, on-demand replays and highlights, through monthly subscription. One game per week free-to-air coverage of the Premier League is available from SBS (Australia). [37]

Figures from UK tourism body VisitBritain suggest that 750,000 visitors to Britain attended a Premier League match in 2010, spending a total £595 million and an average of £766. Visitors from Norway are most likely to come to watch Premier League football, with one in 13 Norwegian tourists travelling specifically to attend matches. Second on the list is the United Arab Emirates. For those visiting family and friends, the most likely to watch a football match are from Japan, China and Australia.[38]

Kick-off times

Premier League

Each weekend as many as six Premier League matches will be moved to be shown on Sky Sports or BT Sport. The main kick-off times for TV matches are 12:30pm and 5:30pm on Saturdays, 1:30pm and 4:00pm on Sundays, and 8:00pm on Mondays. For up to 10 matches each season, there is also a Friday night 8:00pm TV slot. Other matches may also be moved to Sunday, usually because one of the teams involved played in a UEFA Europa League fixture the preceding Thursday. This can sometimes result in 12:00pm, 2:15pm and 4:30pm Sunday kick-offs, with the 12:00 game sometimes being broadcast on BT Sport. The 2:15pm game will sometimes kick off at 2:05pm.

Sky will almost always show a Saturday 12:30pm as well as a Sunday 4:00pm game live, typically following a Sunday 1:30pm kick off as part of a Super Sunday double-bill. Two matches per midweek round will also be picked for live broadcast by BT on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at either 7:45pm or 8:00pm.

BT Sport typically broadcast live Premier League games at 5:30pm on Saturdays.

Each broadcaster is subjected to restrictions on the number of times they can show each team live per season to ensure fair distribution of TV revenue. Similarly, each team must appear at least once in each TV slot.

Football League

All televised Football League games are broadcast on SkySports, with 2 games (usually Championship) per weekend broadcast at 7:45pm on a Friday and 5:30pm on a Saturday. Other games may be additionally scheduled at different times.

3pm "Blackout"

In the 1960s, Burnley F.C. chairman Bob Lord successfully convinced fellow Football League chairmen that televised matches on a Saturday afternoon would have a negative effect on the attendances of other football league games that were not being televised and as a result reduce their financial income.

As a result, the FA, Premier League and Football League do not permit English matches to be televised live between 2:45pm and 5:15pm on a Saturday within the United Kingdom. Until recently, the FA Cup Final was an exception and was broadcast at 3pm on a Saturday in May; however, in 2012, the FA Cup Final was moved to 5pm.

Foreign matches shown in the United Kingdom are also affected by the blackout; Eleven Sports do not broadcast the first 15 minutes of Italian Serie A matches which kick off at 5pm UK time.

In February 2011, Advocate General Kokott of the European Court of Justice opined that the "closed periods" did not encourage match attendance at other league games.

It is, in fact, doubtful whether closed periods are capable of encouraging attendance at matches and participation in matches. Both activities have a completely different quality to the following of a live transmission on television. It has not been adequately shown to the Court that the closed periods actually encourage attendance at and participation in matches. Indeed, there is evidence to refute this claim: for example, in an investigation of the closed periods under competition law the Commission found that only 10 of 22 associations had actually adopted a closed period. No closed periods were adopted in France, Germany, Italy and Spain, or in Northern Ireland, that is to say, within the sphere of influence of English football.

Advocate General Kokott of the European Court of Justice[39]

To avoid this blackout, the last day of the Premier League, when all ten games must kick off simultaneously, is always played on a Sunday. The final round of fixtures each of the Football Leagues are also scheduled away from 3pm on a Saturday in order to broadcast one or more game live.

Live radio broadcasts are permitted, both nationally and locally; these may be simulcast on the internet, depending on the broadcaster. Viewers outside the UK can still watch these games live on foreign broadcasters, thus creating somewhat of a grey market within the UK with viewers able to subscribe to or watch streams of foreign channels.

The Premier League and Sky maintain that, while grey market viewing of games is not illegal on the part of the viewer, it is illegal for anyone (such as a public house) to make such services openly available. This has in the past lead to heavy fines for public houses in the United Kingdom which have shown 3pm games in their establishments. More recently, the legality of such fines has been disputed, and a number of Crown Court cases have been reported in which publicans successfully challenged the Premier League's position.[40]

In recent years, Sky Sports have shown a 3pm game in full, on tape delay via their Game of the Day show, with extended highlights of the other 3pm games shown after, on Match Choice.


  1. ^ Gibson, Owen (13 June 2012). "Premier League lands £bn deal". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 June 2012.
  2. ^ "Top Soccer Leagues Get 25% Rise in TV Rights Sales, Report Says". Bloomberg. Retrieved 17 August 2014
  3. ^ "Happened on this day - 16 September". BBC Sport. 16 September 2002. Retrieved 22 August 2006.
  4. ^ "The History of the BBC: The First Television Era". 2006. Retrieved 22 August. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  5. ^ a b "Goalmouths - TV's Voices of Football". Off The Telly. Archived from the original on 15 May 2009.
  6. ^ Smith, Martyn. Match Of The Day 40th Anniversary. pp. 10–11.
  7. ^ Imlach, Gary. My Father and Other Working-Class Football Heroes. pp. 152–153.
  8. ^ Bourn, John. "History of football on ITV". Archived from the original on 12 January 2005. Note that the reference says Match of the Week started in 1963; however according to Soccerbase, Ipswich's 3-2 loss to Wolves actually occurred in 1962.
  9. ^ Kenneth Wolstenholme. 50 Sporting Years And It's Still Not All Over. pp. 113–118.
  10. ^ Imlach, Gary. My Father and Other Working-Class Football Heroes. pp. 96–109.
  11. ^ BBC (28 January 2009). "BBC retain Premier League rights". BBC News. Retrieved 3 January 2010.
  12. ^ "The landscape post-Murphy". Blackstone Chambers. Archived from the original on 22 June 2015. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  13. ^ "Wales lines up for identity parade". BBC Wales. BBC. 19 May 2010. Retrieved 7 April 2011.
  14. ^ "Who is the Premier League's best?". FIFA. 11 December 2007. Retrieved 7 April 2011.
  15. ^ "History and time are key to power of football, says Premier League chief". The Times. 3 July 2013. Retrieved 3 July 2013.
  16. ^ "Bidders line up for U.S. rights to Premiership". Sports Business Journal. Street & Smith's Sports Group. 26 January 2009. Retrieved 8 April 2009.
  17. ^ "English Premier League gets a big American stage on NBC". The Washington Post. Retrieved 17 August 2014.
  18. ^ ""Premier League Pass" to launch on NBC Sports Gold". ProSoccerTalk. 27 June 2017. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  19. ^ "NBC wins $250m rights to broadcast English Premier League in US". The Guardian. Associated Press. 29 October 2012. Retrieved 29 October 2012.
  20. ^ "NBCUNIVERSAL PRESENTS UNPRECEDENTED COVERAGE OF PREMIER LEAGUE'S "CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY" ON MAY 11" (Press release). NBCUniversal. 17 April 2014. Retrieved 19 April 2014.
  21. ^ "Serie A, FA Cup deals show ESPN still a big believer in power of soccer". Retrieved 2018-12-02.
  23. ^ "NBC retains Premier League rights until 2021-22 season". ESPN FC. 10 August 2015. Retrieved 12 August 2015.
  24. ^ Sandomir, Richard (10 August 2015). "NBC Retains Rights to Premier League in Six-Year Deal". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  25. ^ Paulsen (28 May 2015). "Premier League Viewership Up in Year Two on NBC". Sports Media Watch. Retrieved 12 August 2015.
  26. ^ Yoder, Matt (11 August 2015). "NBC AND THE ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE WILL CONTINUE THE BEST MARRIAGE IN SPORTS MEDIA". Awful Announcing. Retrieved 12 August 2015.
  27. ^ Rashid, Saad (28 July 2015). "NBC Sports deserves new Premier League rights deal". World Soccer Talk. Retrieved 12 August 2015.
  28. ^ "Has NBC Sports Found the Secret of Selling Soccer to U.S. TV Viewers?". The Hollywood Reporter. 30 August 2013. Retrieved 12 August 2015.
  29. ^ Krishnaiyer, Kartik (4 January 2014). "FOX's FA Cup Soccer Coverage Still Pales In Comparison To Competition". World Soccer Talk. Retrieved 12 August 2015.
  30. ^ "ESPN-Star extends pact with FA Premier League". Business Line. 21 March 2004. Retrieved 9 August 2006.
  31. ^ "A record-breaking World Cup shows India have finally embraced football". The Independent. 27 October 2017.
  32. ^ Hennock, Mary (27 October 2003). "Chinese phone maker's fancy footwork". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 9 August 2006.
  33. ^ "Super Sports Media Group acquires Premier League rights in China". London. Archived from the original on 19 August 2014. Retrieved 17 August 2014.
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  35. ^ Simpson, Peter (10 June 2009). "English Premier League stars to shine in Beijing". The Global Times. Archived from the original on 7 July 2011. Retrieved 14 September 2010.
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  37. ^ [1]. Retrieved 03 January 2018
  38. ^ "Premier League draws 750,000 visitors a year". Reuters. 19 August 2011.
  39. ^ "OPINION OF ADVOCATE GENERAL KOKOTT". February 2011. Retrieved 10 March 2013.
  40. ^ Clement, Barrie (12 April 2006). "Pubs win the right to show football on Saturday afternoons". London: The Independent. Archived from the original on 7 September 2006. Retrieved 8 August 2006.


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