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Could a new Premier League channel become the way we watch English football? This debate has only just started

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Sky Sports has been lead broadcaster of the Premier League since its inception in 1992

Sky Sports has been lead broadcaster of the Premier League since its inception in 1992

Sky Sports has been lead broadcaster of the Premier League since its inception in 1992

Talk of revolution in a sporting brand that has few peers around the world may raise a few eyebrows, but the Premier League have hinted that they are ready to explore the prospect of making a huge leap of faith.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has suggested his organisation are exploring the possibility of walking away from the television companies that have helped to turn them into the most-watched brand in soccer, as they ponder the prospect of producing and delivering their product to a huge worldwide audience without outside assistance or finance.

The 'PremFlix' model would see the Premier League become a broadcaster in its own right, distributing games to different territories and using a subscription model that would allow them to offer the content at a much-reduced rate.

In principle, this would appear to be great news for supporters struggling to justify the number of subscriptions now required to the relentless diet of sport served up by Sky, Virgin Media and Premier Sports and eir Sport In Ireland, yet this plan is very much in the formative stages of development.

Flicking the switch on Premier League TV requires years of planning and bold decision making and it remains to be seen whether there is an appetite among the elite clubs in England to entertain the plan.

THE BASICS

The Premier League currently has contracts with principle partners Sky Sports and BT Sports that run until the summer of 2022, with a £5.136bn deal for 168 games-per-season representing a slide in revenue that ensures clubs collect around £9.3m per televised game rather than the £10.2m figure achieved in the previous broadcast deal.

That figure is substantially boosted by worldwide TV rights, with a £2billion deal struck with Swedish media company MTG's Nordic Entertainment Group the latest windfall for the Premier League as they agreed on a deal that will see the network screen 232 live games each year from 2022 to 2028.

The deal was significant as it appeared to rule out any prospect of the Premier League taking control of its own broadcasting before 2028, ensuring at least two more rounds of negotiations with Sky and BT Sport.

HOW WOULD 'PREMFLIX' WORK

There have been suggestions that the Premier League could look to start their own 'PremFlix' channels as early as the 2022/23 season, but the vast infrastructure required to set up that kind of operation is likely to take many years to evolve.

However, Premier League chief Masters has confirmed that they may soon be ready to test their own subscription model in certain territories ahead of a full roll-out at a later date.

"We have spent quite a lot of time and invested a lot of recourse in building out our expertise and capacity in 'direct consumer'," stated Masters in interviews with reporters last week.

"We considered whether it would be the right time to test a few markets and decided not to. But we are going to continue for the planning phase in the next commercial term to build out those capabilities. We were ready last time and we will be ready next time should the opportunity arise.

"I'm not saying it will happen in the next cycle or when it will happen but eventually the Premier League will move to a mix of direct consumer and media rights sales. It is impossible to say when that will be."

The Premier League makes £3.1bn a year from TV rights, of which £1.4bn comes from foreign markets, but they may be willing to put some of that revenue at risk to test the waters of their own subscription model.

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Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring their second goal with team-mates

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring their second goal with team-mates

REUTERS

Giving a trial to a Premier League channel in the Far East or maybe in a growing territory such as America could be an option and if it was not to be successful, they could revert back to their current plan of selling broadcasting rights to established broadcasters.

A cost price of £8 in the UK or €10 in Ireland would be attractive for soccer fans currently paying so much more, but a lot of work needs to be put in place before it would be a viable option.

WHY CHANGE A SUCCESSFUL BRAND?

The rising cost of subscription services are a concern to the Premier League on a number of levels.

First of all, English soccer addicts struggling to pay the £75 monthly fee required to have the combination of Sky Sports, BT Sport and Amazon Prime that would be required to watch all live Premier League games in England.

Meanwhile, Irish customers have the option of watching all the BT Sport games on the Sports Extra package via Sky, which also give them access to the Champions League games that are also available on Virgin Media Sport for subscribers.

It's a mix that Premier League chiefs fear could be a turn off for supporters, with the biggest threat to their revenue stream continuing to be the illegal streams that remain a scourge for all hoping to maximise revenue from television deals.

With 3pm games on Saturday not shown in the UK, fans have turned to online streams that sees sites pick up feeds from US and Middle East broadcasts of Premier League matches that are being consumed by huge numbers every weekend.

The Premier League might conclude that a cut-price 'season ticket' to watch their teams in action could be the best way to irradiate illegal streaming sites, with the failure to shut down long-running avenues for fans to watch games without paying for them highlighting how tough it is to combat the problem.

AN ALTERNATIVE PLAN

Premier League clubs have discussed numerous different options as they plot to maintain their broadcast revenues, with one plan offering an intriguing prospect that would guarantee a vast revenue in return for a stand-alone agreement.

The 'mega-deal' option would see the Premier League license their matches to one broadcast partner and allow them to sell the rights on to different territories around the world in a bid to finance the deal.

Amazon Prime's move to buy limited rights to Premier League games in England was evidence that new broadcast partners could emerge in the coming years and if the oft-muted Facebook Television was to launch, they could rival Amazon as a potential bidder for Premier League rights.

Sky would doubtless still be very much in the mix if this was the model developed.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Nothing, for now.

Sky, BT and Amazon will bid for the next rights' package of Premier League games in the UK ahead of the 2022/23 season, with the notion that a 'PremFlix' channel is being considered by the kingmakers in a soccer race driven by a desire to attract broadband subscribers a clever tactical ploy by Premier League chief Masters ahead of a fresh round of negotiations.

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Manchester City skipper Vincent Kompany, centre, lifts the Premier League trophy (Nick Potts/PA)

Manchester City skipper Vincent Kompany, centre, lifts the Premier League trophy (Nick Potts/PA)

Sky's reliance on Premier League football will ensure that they will do all they can to maintain a dominant position in this market and their clever deal with BT Sport has ensured that they have the best package for all Irish fans.

Building a network of cameras, commentators, graphics, and everything else that would be required for the Premier League to 'go-it-alone' in their broadcast negotiations will take time, but the vision for a new future has been thrown onto the negotiating table.

Premier League chiefs believe their own pay-per-view model could attract £100m subscribers a year that could generate £10b a year, but they would need to be bold enough to make that move and walk away from guaranteed revenue to try and tap into that cash pot.

Online Editors