The Premier League recently announced that they, along with their partners Sky Sports and BT, will be "changing direction" and discontinuing their pay-per-view match offering. This is a second attempt of having multiple paywalls; Sky’s Prem Plus lasted from 2001-2007 and was based on a similar model.
The recent extension was introduced a few months back so that matches typically played during at the 3pm Saturday time slot, and not shown live on TV, could be viewed by fans. Of course, this came at a price – every pay-per-view match cost £14.95 in the UK and €16.95 in Ireland. It wasn’t the case that Sky were charging extra per se, as these matches were in addition to the 140 live matches on the premium channel.
The logic proposed by the EPL seems to be that pay-per-view charges would allow fans of every club to watch their team during the pandemic and raise revenue for clubs in the absence of matchday fan income.
14 matches have been sold via PPV in the UK but now the PPV model is being abandoned. Some casual data tweeted by Joel Minsky suggests that several matches sold poorly. These figures were based on BARB viewing data -which is not the same as buyer data. Newcastle vs. Man Utd had 40 viewers, while Leicester vs. Aston Villa only had 20k. Liverpool vs. Sheffield United sold relatively well, coming in at 110k viewers. Arsenal vs. Leicester registered 140k. Given the size of the Newcastle and Manchester United fan bases, I was surprised by the buy rate – maybe this reflects fans disdain for PPV.
Back-of-the-envelope calculations say that these raised ~4.63m (assuming all viewers paid – which may not be true). This figure might seem reasonable but averaging it over 4 matches, this is lower than what Sky pay per match. However, I don’t know if (or what) Sky are paying for these extra matches. On top of this, there is likely lost advertising revenue from choosing the PPV route and, as can be seen from fans donating the PPV fee to charity, plenty of bad publicity.
Given that Sky are happy to end the PPV model one would have to infer that it’s not making economic sense. That said, they may have been content with this failing from the start – for a company with savvy marketers, it seems strange that a Monday evening fixture between West Brom and Burnley would be packaged as “box office”....
If I recall correctly, there was plenty of disdain about the PremPlus model in the early 2000’s too. Back then however, there was no method to allow fans successfully coordinate on mass to donate the fee to charity like they have done this time.
One final thought. Are Sky bailing out at the wrong time? Some of the earliest matches on box office were broadcast when fans could have partook in out-of-home viewing. England and Ireland are now back in lockdown, so the option of the pub is now out.