Why BT Sports and Sky Should Reimburse Subscribers for Suspended Football

Flick through your BT sports channels or sports planner this weekend and you'd be forgiven for thinking it's 2014 – withdrawals are affecting everything but a bit of league football in the UK, major broadcasters digging through their archives and a nostalgic filler that usually reserved for daytime television.

This, of course, is quite understandable. As recently as Wednesday, March 11, BT was packed with the Champions League football schedule, including a live broadcast of the match in Liverpool, where it was considered perfectly safe for over 50 people from across the country and abroad to be tightly packed into the football stadium .

Then the withdrawal symptoms came at an unprecedented rate and, of course, there are significantly more important things to worry about than football. And yet, one of those things for the millions of BT sports and sky subscribers who are now facing job uncertainty or high household costs is their bank accounts.

Yes, broadcasters are covered by the terms of their contracts, but the unprecedented situation calls for an equivalent response - one that doesn't look likely yet. That's why, from the point of view of a football fan, the prospect continues to pay, that hefty monthly bonus doesn't add up...

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Great Chill

Who would have thought a ruddy Mikel Arteta would be the man to bring the Premier League Juggernaut to his knees?

Just hours after the UK government announced that sporting events would go ahead as usual - despite the escalation of measures being taken by other countries around the world to block the spread of the coronavirus - it was announced that the former Everton midfielder and current the Arsenal manager have tested positive for Covid-19.

Without football, TV subscriptions would be a fraction of what they cost now.

The Gunners' game against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday afternoon was postponed and after Callum Hudson-Odoi's Chelsea joined the Spaniard on your list the next morning, the decision was made to suspend the entire Premier League (and all other professional matches) until at least April 3rd. Many fixtures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have also been cancelled.

It usually takes a lot to prevent a high flight as the game goes on. Manchester United's match against Bournemouth in 2015 was delayed for two days after a suspicious package inside Manchester United, and Liverpool against Newcastle was postponed when the entire country lost its proverbial power with the death of Princess Diana in 1997.

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But you have to go back to the big freeze of 1963, when Britain recorded the coldest month of the 20th century, to find games being delayed in large numbers and for any real length of time. This year's FA Cup tie between Sheffield United and Bolton wasn't played until three months after the originally scheduled date, but we haven't seen widespread suspensions of that kind since World War II.

Sky Sports

Taste the sports schedule this weekend.

Dear tumbleweeds

Of course, the games are very different now than it was then. Today, TV is in command, moving five Premier League games on a typical weekend tour to flunk its schedules: typically two on Saturday, two on Sunday and one on Monday night.

That's only 7.5 hours if you take each of them in the last 90 minutes, but add in the preamble and post-match analysis, and this makes up a significant part of the programming, not to mention the hours and hours of play with the EFL German Bundesliga and other foreign leagues, which also broadcast on television.

Surely broadcasters can't justify £42 a month for golf, rugby and WWE?

Suspensions have left gaping holes in the charts of the channels, back-to-back episodes of Premier League Sky Years, where games with Aston Villa, Chelsea, Wolves and West Ham should be. With fans having paid a large portion of their monthly subscription fee for access to sports channels (currently £42 per month for both Sky Sports and BT Sports), they shouldn't expect to be reimbursed for all games, should they?

Without football, TV subscriptions would be a fraction of what they cost now. The rights to show live Premier League games between 2019 and 2022 were sold in February 2018 for £4,4bn, with those costs being passed on to the viewer.

The sport sky, in particular, has doubled down on Premier League matches in recent years, giving up its rights to the Spanish La Liga and the Dutch Championship as spending on showing the English top flight in a spiral. While BT Sport is showing fewer Premier League games than the sky, the Champions League and Europa League running gear will be eating away their offerings next week and possibly beyond.

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Surely broadcasters can't justify charging £42 a month for golf, rugby and WWE, especially when wrestling isn't even a real sport?

Sky Sports

Answer so far

Neither Sky nor BT Sports committed any subscription reimbursement obligations, and when we asked if there were any plans to do so, both broadcasters made almost identical announcements.

Sky Sports Managing Director Rob Webster said: “We recognize that this is a rapidly changing environment and we are working at speed to ensure that we continue to deliver to all of our customers. Many sporting events have been postponed but not cancelled, so we expect to be able to show them when they are rescheduled.”

A similar statement from BT Sport reads: “We apologize to customers for the changes to BT's sports schedule this month due to the impact of Covid-19. The situation is evolving rapidly and we are working with the leagues to continue broadcasting live Sports where possible and streaming games when they are rescheduled in the coming months.”

As it stands though, a resumption of matches early next month seems unlikely at best. With the virus not expected to peak in the UK before May or June. The Guardian claims that the "heads" in the game expect the disruption to last much longer, while the chief executive of one Premier League club believes there is a real chance that this season will not be finished. Hard luck, Liverpool fans, the wait continues.

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sports gesture

It's almost certainly too early to tell, and the health of those affected should be everyone's first priority, but whether it's the broadcasters or the Premier League that will shell out the money, subscribers deserve to be repaid for what they end up missing out on.

Of course, those on a contract-free monthly pass can simply cancel, or perhaps just make a timely switch to the now-TV program-pass. But subscribers need to be compensated - after all, it's their money that has allowed the Premier League to become the all-conquering force it is today. Oh, and a little bit of bailout for the lower-league, who are almost entirely dependent on gate receipts for survival, wouldn't hurt.

While the seat fan is not the most harassed football fan, a 2019 study by eToro found that the average per-match-go fan spends 40% more TV subscriptions now than they did five years ago. Given that broadcasters are often tormented by the inconvenience of supporters and should they avoid unnecessary expenses with inconvenient Kick-offs, isn't it time they too are being pinched?

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