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Virgin Media: Fans demand more live TV football

Three quarters of English football fans (77 per cent) would like more live Premier League games available on TV, new research reveals.

The research, carried out among more than 1,000 football fans and commissioned by Virgin Media, reveals that two-thirds believe the rising cost of Premier League live TV rights means they will pay too much to watch live football. Only 6 per cent of fans say they were able to watch every match they wanted to on TV at home.

The research is published as Ofcom approaches the first anniversary of its investigation into the sale of Premier League rights. The regulator launched its investigation in November 2014 following a formal complaint from Virgin Media.

In February 2015 the Premier League struck a deal with BT and Sky worth over £5 billion to show just 168 out of 380 games on UK television (44 per cent of games). Only 13 per cent of football fans think fans will benefit from the new rights deal, while over half (53 per cent) think the FA Premier League itself will be the main beneficiary.

Some 70 per cent of football fans think it is unfair that they have to buy both Sky and BT bundles or add-ons to watch the games they want to see, with 73 per cent of fans saying they would watch more games if they were available on TV.

The number of games shown in the UK has increased by just 21 per cent over the last eight years, yet the price of the rights has increased nearly 200 per cent over this period. Meanwhile in the US, for example, NBC is reported to have paid around £660 million for six seasons’ worth of TV rights, showing all 380 Premier League matches. This means that US football fans are able to watch more Premier League live football than UK TV viewers.

With similar ‘all games’ deals across Europe (for three seasons) UK football fans pay twice as much to watch half the games as fans in Europe. When asked about this arrangement 72 per cent of English football fans branded it unfair with over 60 per cent of fans believing the increased cost is to the benefit of clubs.

With some fans not being able to afford subscriptions to watch live Premier League football, or some of their team’s games falling into the 212 games not shown on UK television, it’s not uncommon for fans to miss their team’s matches.

When asked what they do in this situation, 28 per cent of fans say they miss the match altogether with 20 per cent watching games at the pub and over one in 10 fans (13 per cent) streaming games via a website they don’t need to pay for. Over 70 per cent of football fans said would like be able to watch more of their team’s games live on TV than they currently are able to.

According to Tom Mockridge, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Media, football fans are getting a raw deal. “They pay the highest prices in Europe to watch top-flight football on TV yet are denied some of the best matches. Ofcom should show the red card to the Premier League and the way in which TV rights are sold in the UK.”

In terms of the Ofcom investigation, Mockridge said it was time the regulator decided whether an auction structure based on now expired commitments agreed in 2006 justifies a self-determined exemption from competition law. “The results surely speak for themselves, over the same period the cost of live TV rights has rocketed by nearly 200 per cent,” he observed.

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