Rumours are circulating (again) that Apple or Google may throw their hat into the ring for the TV rights to Premiership games. For a number of years I've felt the rise of broadband offers is an opportunity to bring matches to fans who can't make it to the game and whose team isn't on TV. All the other games could be available online. I doubt the Premier League will be brave or revolutionary enough to work with a company like Apple or change the cash-rich status quo they enjoy with traditional broadcasters. But I've been wrong before…so maybe, just maybe it could happen…
Most attendances won't fall if more games are broadcast
Most fans can't get to every match - in fact the majority don't attend any games at all. Many live too far away from their team's home stadium or simply don't have the time or funds - and that's before you consider the cost and time of travelling to away games.
It's been argued that if more games were on TV, attendances would fall. I don't believe this for the majority of clubs. Going to a game is an experience - a day out with friends or family to enjoy. Football fans won't stop going to games because they are available to watch - I think they will still go, but will also watch the games they can't attend. Many fans that would never be able to attend a game would watch - and that brings in more eyeballs and therefore more ad and merchandise revenue. It’s worth noting that most grounds at are at 90% capacity and have waiting lists; this high level of demand is a major factor in the league’s attractiveness to TV companies to begin with.
Of course, there aren't the TV channels available to make this viable for the entire Premiership - but streaming any game not scheduled on TV makes this possible. Now we're in Apple territory.
Football the Apple way
So what would the Premiership look like under Apple? There would still be the big games on TV of course - that's a given, revenue wise. However all of the other games - the ones that 1000s of fans would pay to watch but simply can't today - could be available for a season-long subscription package per team, or on a pay-as-you-go basis. This could be sold via iTunes - Apple already has much of the scale and infrastructure required.
This is obvious - and, the cost of the rights aside, a fairly "easy" thing for Apple to do. But this is the start of what can be done - and the real opportunity for Apple.
Rebooting Apple TV - with goals
Apple TV, the company's set-top box and content services, has been a side project. They've never brought it to the fore and made it a core product - it's never become the well-designed, must-have consumer entertainment powerhouse it could be. Sure they've released new versions and, yes, added new content, but it's never gone mainstream in the US - and even less so in the UK, where there are less services available on it.
Add Premier League games to Apple TV, and things could change. Tell a fan they need to spend £150 on a set top box and a subscription of, say, £20 a month to see all the other games - the ones not on Sky or ESPN - and they'll be interested. Tell them about it's other features and that it means games can be watched on the TV and they're not trapped on a small laptop/tablet/monitor screen and they'll be even more interested. Get enough of them to subscribe - and add services/content that their partners and families will like - and you'll build the sort of momentum Sky enjoyed from their sports rights.
If this happened, Apple would have their "box" in the living room alongside cable/satellite/Freeview platforms. Unlike most of the current generation of set-top boxes, it will also be able to offer Internet access - and Connected TV services. Features like in-programme participation in social networks, information tickers (e.g. shares/news), in-broadcast gaming and all of the yet-to-be thought of innovations that could make Connected TV a must-have in future.
This would provide a model for Apple to licence other rights and events like concerts and grow the attractiveness of it's platform - and expand beyond the UK into Europe and the cash-cow that the US market might represent.
Of course, Google could do this, too - they've already held the rights to events like Indian Premier League cricket for example, and streamed them on YouTube.
Maybe, just maybe, I'll be watching Spurs win the league on an Apple TV box one day. Maybe.
By Duncan Parry, COO, STEAK
Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscuitsmlp/6792303139/
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