Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Category: Television

3 reasons why the Premier League deal should be no surprise

It looks huge – a $5.1 deal, 70 per cent up on the previous one. The English Premier League certainly knows how to sell itself.

But amid all the mutterings of how the money won’t filter down to the grass roots and smaller clubs, or Alan Sugar’s lovely image of “prune juice”, here are three reasons why we shouldn’t be surprised.

1) Sky

Sky paid £4.2bn for their match packages. Sounds a lot, until you realise that in 2014, Sky made £7.6bn in revenue, and a profit before tax of £1.1bn. Also, this is a three-year deal, so for Sky it works out as £1.4bn per year. In short – the company can clearly afford it. Assuming that the advertisers are still keen, and the public keep subscribing, it could be a great deal.

Of course, the extra money won’t be squandered, from Sky’s point of view. Every big money transfer to the Premier League adds to the allure, so they aren’t just spending money on a fixed asset – they are spending on future improvements too. If English clubs can outspend Spanish rivals, it’s basically free marketing for Sky.

2) BT

BT have become a serious football broadcast player. They snapped up the Champion’s League TV rights, and have again bid up for the Premier League. Increased competition over a fixed supply means higher prices, as any economist will tell you.

3) Lessons of the NFL

It has a bigger domestic audience, obviously, but the NFL has done a very good job of squeezing the broadcasters for cash, with an annualised $5bn-plus deal with several broadcasters over eight years. While this is about double what the British broadcasters are paying (after converting dollars into sterling), there is a remarkable similarity in the increase from the previous deal.

The NFL secured a total $3.1bn TV rights deal for the 2006-13 seasons. That then went up to over $5bn for 2014-21. The Premier League had a £3bn deal for 2013-16, and now £5.1bn for 2016-19. It’s a highly similar increase: 62-plus per cent for the NFL, 70 per cent for the Premier League.

Is it such a surprise that sports broadcasters (albeit in different countries for different sports) have upped their valuation of TV rights by the same amount at a similar time?

It would be nice to see more money going to places other than players’ salaries and agents. But in a commercial world, the Premier League deal is less surprising than the wide-eyed coverage from the media who run every news snippet about football that they possibly can.

The Wimbledon roof myth

There’s been quite a lot of rain already at Wimbledon this year, and that new roof has been wheeled out a few times. Which is great – for TV, and the 15,000 Centre Court spectators.

However, I keep hearing the people say that the tennis is “sorted out” and the roof will keep things on track so there aren’t delays.

Not really. It all depends when it rains. There are 13 days to Wimbledon, with an exponentially decreasing number of matches to be played. The men and women singles are both a field of 128 – which means you need 127 matches to work out the winner for each event. Centre Court can host two men’s matches a day – three if they started very early (between 9 and 15 total sets), and four women’s matches (8 to 12 sets).

So – here’s the tournament plan, the matches required, and whether the roof keeps the whole thing on schedule.

Weekday Day Round Total matches required Will a roof keep the tournament on schedule?
Mon 1 1st round, m&w 64 No
Tues 2 1st round, m&w 64 No
Weds 3 2nd round, m&w 32 No
Ths 4 2nd round, m&w 32 No
Fri 5 3rd round, m&w 16 No
Sat 6 3rd round, m&w 16 No
Mon 7 4th round, m&w 16 No
Tues 8 women qtr 4 Maybe
Weds 9 men qtr 4 Almost certainly not
Ths 10 women semi 2 Yes
Fri 11 men semi 2 Yes
Sat 12 women final 1 Yes
Sun 13 men final 1 Yes

Answer: the roof is great for the last four days, and maybe the second Tuesday. Anything on days one to seven and it’s all about show. The TV audience is happy; the centre court crowd (which is less than half the gate during the first week) is happy; but not the players or the organisers. Or the people with tickets to court one or ground passes.

Just don’t be yourself

It’s sometimes welcome advice: “Just be yourself.” And it’s quite often well-meant and even useful. But not really for actors, who, lest we forget, are supposed to act.

I have no idea where it started, but you can see the recent path. There was Being John Malkovich, a fantastic surreal film starring John Malkovich as himself. Then there was Curb your enthusiasm, where Seinfeld creator Larry David plays himself, and lots of celebrities also played themselves, undermining their prima-dona egos – and it was one of the best comedy series of all time.

Now the British are in on the act. There was Extras, with Ricky Gervais and friends. Kate Winslet played herself being obsessed about winning an Oscar – that kind of thing. There have been a few similar-ish comedy shows along the way, but now we have The Trip, staring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, on a trip, talking, driving, and eating. That’s the extent of it. How much is real and how much is scripted I have no idea.

Extras was on one level acceptable. The celebrity actors were themselves, but the core team were fictional: Andy Millman and co. And it was cringingly funny, and awkward, and rather good.

But The Trip is a stage further on the journey to self-referential hell. Coogan and Brydon are themselves, and that’s it. They mock their own insecurity (or what they think the press and public perceive to be their insecurities), and hope to come across as jolly good sports for being the butt of their own jokes.

But they aren’t that funny. It rambles, goes nowhere, and feels like a tedious Sunday anecdote from a dull uncle. I’m sure they think it’s edgy, but it’s not.

In all these shows there is a point when the clever-clever self-mockery and the postmodern irony of playing yourself playing yourself on screen slips into what is basically laziness. The Trip has crossed the line.

One final thought: Who has appeared in all three of Curb, Extras and the Trip? Step forward Ben Stiller. How long before he has a sitcom where he plays a slightly neurotic actor who wants to be taken seriously called Ben Stiller?

© 2024 Rob Minto

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