Premier League fears over internet streaming

The Premier League has admitted the threat that internet streaming has on football’s finances as more and more fans turn to online viewing.

Richard Scudamore, the Premier League’s chief executive, recently renegotiated a bumper new TV deal which currently stands at around £1.7 billion. This is an increase of 5 per cent on the previous deal before foreign rights and associated commercial sales such as mobile ringtones are taken into account.

But with up to a quarter of a million supporters watching each game illegally online, and numbers expected to rise as image quality improves, the dangers are obvious. Sky and Setanta rely on exclusivity in order to sell subscription packages and their fear would be that millions cancel subscriptions and watch games live, online, for free. That could mean the current mega-deal is the last of its kind.

“The long term consequences for the game are that it has the potential to devalue or dilute the rights value, and in turn that will dilute the product that we are able to turn out and the quality of player coming to the league,” said Premier League lawyer Oliver Weingarten.

“Once a site has stopped streaming it can set up another domain name, or the Internet Service Provider (ISP) may be safe-harboured in a country where the laws don't provide as much protection as we would like.”

The Premier League are currently looking to target the companies and ISP’s who host streaming sites, rather than individual fans, but as the music industry found out long ago this is easier said than done.

Mark Longden of the FSF, said: “Once the TV money dries up the only people who keep clubs going are the diehards who come through the turnstiles. The clubs, and the Premier League, want to seriously ask themselves if they can afford to lose these people because with the way ticket prices are going they could do.”

Hear more about this story on the Jonathan Maitland show broadcast on Sunday, February 22nd, 2009.