The Premier League Should Embrace Streaming, Not Shut It Down.

  • The Premier League should never have made this move to shut down reddit streams and instead should embrace streaming as it is already the market’s choice for all entertainment except live sports.


Last week, the moderators of the extremely popular subreddit, r/soccerstreams, announced they would cease all user and subscriber activity involving streams of live football matches including those from the Premier League, Champions League, and many more. This happened because the admins of Reddit threatened to ban the subreddit (a threat which actually came from the Premier League itself), and I speculate, the moderators and their accounts.


If you aren’t familiar with Reddit, football streams, or how it all works, I’ll explain soon. But first, this is an absolutely idiotic, shortsighted move coming from the Premier League as it doesn’t benefit any parties involved - the league, the fans, the broadcasters, or any other stakeholders. Moreover, this move shows the Premier League higher ups do not understand the market, their audience, nor the future of broadcasting live sports.


The Premier League should never have made this move to shut down reddit streams and instead should embrace streaming as it is already the market’s choice for all entertainment except live sports. Streaming is here to stay and will be the future of live sports. The sooner the Premier League embraces streaming, the sooner they will expand their reach, bring in more revenue, and please the fans.


Reddit is a user generated news site to put it simply. Users can post links, photos, blogs, or anything else they want, usually categorized by subject called a “subreddit”, i.e. a subreddit for football streams, one for french food, one for new movies reviews, one for travel advice, etc. Other uses can see each and every post and either up vote it or down vote it pushing the post higher and lower in the rankings with the most popular ones eventually reaching the front page.


Reddit. [image Source: www.reddit.com/r/soccerstreams/]

One thing to keep in mind, reddit is a huge site. Currently (Jan 29th, 2019), it ranks as the 9th most visited site in the UK and 17th in the world, with 53% of the traffic coming from the US and 8% of visitors from the UK in a distant second place. So, reddit is a big deal.


And over the past few years, a subreddit called r/soccerstreams has featured streams of virtually every live soccer game. This is not hyperbole. At the time the subreddit shut down, it had roughly 425,000 subscribers according to the Independent


To put that into perspective, the Premier League averaged 819,000 views on Sky and 692,000 on BT over the first two months of the 2017/18 season as reported by both sportspromedia and sportsbusinessdaily citing an article from the London Times. So, the subreddit wasn’t too far behind.

Granted, not ever subscriber of r/soccerstreams exclusively watched the top flight in England, but it’s safe to say a lot did as it’s the most popular league in the world and the most popular league in the US, where a majority of reddit users are from.


In the past few years, reddit became the go to site for football fans in the US to watch their favorite teams week in week out whether it was the league, domestic cups, or Champions League, as well as international games including the World Cup, qualifiers, and more.


And this trend of streaming isn’t unique to the US. In the UK, The Guardian and the Independent cited a BBC survey from 2017 in which nearly half of supporters surveyed admitting to streaming a match at least once in the past. The most telling part of this survey though is the young fans, 18-34, where 65% stream at least once a month compared to older groups, only 33% of 35-54 year olds and 13% of 55+ admitted to streaming games. 


Champions League. [Image Source: Getty]

I too have used reddit for a long time to watch Chelsea, the Premier League on the whole, Champions League, El Clasico, Dortmund v Bayern, the US National Team, the World Cup, and any other competition and team you can think of.


So, if a huge number of fans in the UK and US consume the Premier League and football in general through reddit, why would the Premier League want to shut down a major way that fans interact and connect with the league and their favorite clubs? 


Those watching on reddit and other streaming sites watch for free essentially because they don’t have a TV subscription. This is the main reason the Premier League went after them.


But imagine if they did pay? The Premier League could increase their recorded viewership by 50%, 70%, or even 100% possibly as well as their revenue. More on this later. And on a side note, other streaming subreddits are already up and running so fans aren't going without.


Technically though, these streams are illegal. Companies like Sky and BT, or NBC in the US, and others in their respective regions purchased the rights to broadcast the Premier League and they paid exorbitant amounts, to the tune of billions of pounds. Regardless of the money paid, they hold the rights to broadcast the games so no other company or individual can show the matches on TV or online.


Leicester lift the Premier League title.

So, contractually and legally, I understand why the league pushed to shut down the streams. If a company paid me billions for this article and everything I wrote, I too would try to shut down anyone reproducing my content without having paid for it and gotten my consent. Again, I do know why and completely recognize the reasons the Premier League took this action.


However, thinking practically, it was a stupid move that benefits absolutely no one. 


The big question and effort put forth by the Premier League shouldn’t be ‘how do we stop these streams?’. They instead should ask ‘why do so many fans stream?’ and ‘how can we reach these fans and turn them into paying customers?’


Live sports are behind the times as every other form of entertainment has moved to streaming online. Movies and TV? Netflix and Amazon. Stand up comedy? Youtube and Netflix. Music? Youtube and Spotify. Books? Kindle. The only form of entertainment that hasn’t moved to on-demand streaming over the internet is live sports as they continue to use an antiquated and outdated form of broadcasting to their audience.


YouTube.[Youtube.com]

Sports leagues partnered with radio companies first and then TV companies in the 20th century for distribution because without radio and TV, the only other way to watch your favorite club was to attend the match… until the beginning of the 21st century. TV and radio distributed sports to reach as many fans as possible.


And did that stop fans from going to matches? No. Premier League stadiums filled up then and continue to sell out now. Look at the league now as the lucrative TV deals turned it into the global behemoth it is. Reaching as many fans as possible benefited the league.


Joan Laporta (left) and Lionel Messi with the LA Liga title. [Getty]

Right now, the Premier League has two distinct audiences to cater to but only recognizes one, the middle aged, 35+ crowd who pays for cable. They completely ignore the younger, 18-35 group that should be their bread and butter as the league could have 30-50 years of these customers if they can hook and keep them now.


Short term, stick with the 35+ crowd as they have the money right now. People in their 20s don't have squat. But long term, the younger generation is the golden ticket.


In 2018, the number of streaming accounts in the UK on Netflix, Amazon, and Now TV overtook that of traditional TV subscriptions for the first time with that core group of 18-35 year old viewers are moving online and skipping out on TV. Not only does this group have a record number of accounts, but Ofcom’s report states that these younger viewers also spend more time watching non traditional broadcasts instead of TV.


When the Premier League moved to shut down the reddit soccer streams, they sent a signal to other big streaming sites to stop or they’d face the same retribution. Furthermore, they told the market they won’t change their model nor pay attention to customers’ viewing habits. 


So what should the Premier League do? Let people and sites illegally show their matches and lose out on a ton of revenue? No. But that doesn’t mean they stick to their same model either.


With two separate audiences, the Premier League can easily reach both. For those who still have cable, show the games on TV like they do now. No need to change. They're grandfathered in so keep it that way.


For the younger audience, the league has to stream because although cord cutting (ending cable subscriptions) isn’t happening as much throughout Europe as it is in the US, the younger fans don’t watch TV. They prefer to stream. 


Netflix. [Image Source: Netflix.com]

Netflix has nearly 150 million subscribers worldwide and nearly 10 million in the UK so clearly these people know how to set up an account and stream. No problems in signing people up to stream.


When it comes to streaming, the league has two options. Either they can continue to outsource the broadcasting rights like they do now to Sky and BT to stream online or the league can do it itself. 


Chelsea lift the Premier League title.

I think the most likely outcome would be outsourcing the streaming to media companies. Leave the distribution to distribution experts while the league focuses on creating the best product possible on the pitch.


What I think is most important for the Premier League to convert young fans who are used to streaming for free into paying customers is two fold.


First, they have to get the pricing right. What do young people pay to stream? Netflix. And what does Netflix charge? £6, £8, or £10 a month depending on the plan. The Premier League’s competition for young fans isn’t the cable companies like Sky and BT where monthly prices can easily reach £60 or even £100; it’s the other streaming entertainment providers.


Manchester City lift Premier League Trophy [PremierLeague.com]

Imagine you’re opening a supermarket in a town that already has two other supermarkets. Old Man River’s Supermarket costs customers £100 on average a month with vegetables, fruits, meats, and then a ton of other stuff most customers don’t buy very often like motor oil, fertilizer, and children’s bikes. 


The other supermarket, Millennial’s, has fruit, vegetables, meats, and everything else customers need without all the extra fluff. And it comes out to only £5 or £10 a month on average for customers.


At Old Man River’s, customer haven’t stopped coming, but new, young customers prefer to go to Millienial’s. Who are you competing with? Obviously the second one, Millennial’s. Especially long term.


If the Premier League wants young fans to pay for their service, they need to get the pricing similar to Netflix, Amazon, and other online streaming providers.


Second, the broadcasting should not have geographic restrictions. Sky and BT hold the rights within the UK to show the Premier League while NBC holds the rights in the US. If you go on vacation to New York and want to watch the weekend’s fixtures, you can only watch American coverage.


Manchester United's 1999 treble-winning side.

It isn’t a big deal for a weekend or two, but what if you live abroad in a country that doesn’t speak English? In that situation, you need to watch TV broadcasts in a language you may not understand with presenters you don’t know or like. 


Now in fairness, what percentage of Premier League fans live abroad in a non English speaking country? Probably not a lot. But just as Netflix provides programming in several other languages, the Premier League could do it too. And regardless of where you live in the world, you can watch House of Cards as there aren’t any geographic restrictions. 


Sell rights to one, two, three, or more English language broadcasters and let them compete for eyeballs. If they want to have all British commentators and target the UK audience, let them. And if they want to use a mix of American and British commentators and target all English speaking countries, let them.


Ronaldo. [Juventus FC via Getty]

And the same for other languages. Sell rights to one, two, three, or more Spanish language broadcasters and have them fight for customers. Restricting coverage based on region is outdated and doesn’t fit in today’s market. 


Fans want to watch the Premier League and limiting broadcasts to TV ignores millions of customers and how they prefer and actually do watch football. They’ve shown they’re willing to pay for quality content on Netflix and without a shadow of a doubt would do the same when it comes to live sports.


The Premier League just have to give it to them.


Remember that Sky and BT averaged 819,000 and 692,000 viewers for Premier League games in the beginning of the 2017/18 campaign. Could the Premier League sign up 100,000 people to a streaming service at £10 a month or £100 a year? Easily. 200,000? Probably. 500,000? That’s where it probably starts to get iffy on sign ups because people still pay for other services like Netflix, Amazon, and possibly TV subscription.


Gary Neville. [Sky Sports]

Where streaming actually supersedes TV is when it comes to advertising. With personalized accounts, the broadcasters whether that be the league itself or a partner, can have highly targeted advertisements and probably charge more than they do now. No more all encompassing McDonald’s commercials because the ads aren’t just trying to reach anyone and everyone, but a specific target customer. Just like Facebook sells aggregated customer info to advertisers, the Premier League broadcaster can do the same.

Regardless of if you like Facebook or other companies selling your information to advertisers like that, I’d rather have ads for products I’m interested in than nonsense that's wasting my time and I think most people would agree.


During the World Cup, I streamed broadcasts from the US and saw the same damn Landon Donovan and Marco Fabian commercial at least 5 times a day and I’m never going to put my money in Wells Fargo.


They wasted money on showing ads to customers like me that will never use their services.

Or you know what? Don't worry about targeting ads and just simulcast the TV feed and online stream. Kill two birds with one stone and please every fan who wants to watch the games.


I’ve been saying for years that I would pay for high quality, legitimate streams of my favorite teams. I’d pay $10 a month, $100 a year or something in that range to watch the Premier League, Champions League, and the US National Team.


Would I like that $100 to include everything? Of course. But I know that’s unrealistic. $200 a year all inclusive? Probably. $300? Starting to get a little pricey.


Performers take part in the opening ceremony before the start of the 2013 UEFA Champions League final. [Image: Dawn.com]

And why not do this….provide games on an individual basis. I don’t watch the German Bundesliga very often, but I do tune in to Bayern v Dortmund or Dortmund v Schalke and I’d pay $2 or $3 to watch that single game.


This season, TNT started showing the Champions League on TV in the US and also had every match live on their partner’s streaming service B/R Live. They offer packages for the year, a month, and individual games.


FA Cup trophy ( Getty Images )

ESPN+ offers Serie A, the FA Cup, and more for only $5 a month in the US. Facebook streamed Champions League games before in the US and now has them in South America.


The new rights cycle starts next year for the Premier League and Amazon Prime will show two full match days domestically in the UK.


It may not have taken off yet, but streaming is the way of the future when it comes to live sports.


If the Premier League started streaming games right now, how much could they make? £100 million is probably a safe estimate from both subscribers and advertisements. Now, that pails in comparison to the billions Sky and BT paid so that’s the reason they haven’t done this yet but they will need to.


Arsenal FA Cup winners 2017. [Getty]

Just like embracing any new technology, first movers have their positives and negatives. Will the Premier League not make as much money in the beginning? Sure. Will they make more in the long run? Guaranteed.


The upcoming rights cycle sold for less than the previous one and while one data point doesn’t indicate a trend, the overall picture does. Streaming is the future of live sports.


The Premier League recently pushed to shut down the popular subreddit, r/soccerstreams, and it showed just how out of touch the executives are with the market and their audience. I, and others, won’t go without. We simply moved to another subreddit and will continue to stream while the Premier League continues its outdated and antiquated way of broadcasting matches. 


I want to give the Premier League and/or NBC money to let me watch their games but they’re too stubborn to do so and in the process ignoring and pissing off millions of fans like me. They are letting fans and revenue slip through their finger tips.


At some point, they’ll have to change their ways and I hope it’s sooner rather than later.


Written by Drew Pells [@Drewpells].

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