Brendan Crossan: Sky could count the cost of losing major sports events

Lionel Messi's last few seasons could be buried on the internet after Sky lost the rights to show La Liga

I ALWAYS loved the sturdiness of VHS video tapes. You knew where you stood with them. They were bulky and reliable.

All you needed to do was take the little plastic snib off the front of the tape and no-one could erase your recordings.

Still, it was essential in our house to write on the adhesive paper strip: ‘DO NOT TAPE OVER’.

I still have hundreds of old VHS of World Cup and European football matches under my bed collecting dust. It’s weird to think that all that storage space could be saved by a memory stick.

Life was much simpler then.

We had a few terrestrial channels, Match of the Day on Saturday evenings and Midweek Sports Special where you’d wait for those 30-second clips from the Spanish and Italian Leagues when Hugo Sanchez and Diego Maradona were kings.

Our staple diet of ‘live’ football amounted to a English League game on a Sunday afternoon.

Back then, you couldn’t have imagined most households paying over £100 per month for satellite TV. And being roped in to paying for Multi-room and High Definition.

And, if you allow to happen, the bills will keep on coming.

Who would have thought people would feel the need to scale a couple of pay walls to watch so-called marquee events?

A couple of weeks ago heavyweight contenders Joseph Parker and Dillian Whyte were deemed worthy enough to be on Sky Box Office – another pay wall.

Like passive recipients of capitalism, we continue to scale pay walls like it’s the thing to do.

For the last two decades Sky have owned the rights to show Spanish La Liga football.

For many football fans, La Liga was the jewel in Sky’s crown.

All the great players were migrating to Spain – Zidane, Figo, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo, Messi.

In many respects Sky were the main players on the pay-per-view stage.

Nobody could compete with them. They had all the big fights too - before Sky Box Office was invented – all the big soccer games from around Europe, the Champions League and the English Premier League.

But over the last few seasons, there has been significantly less investment in their La Liga coverage as the satellite channel threw most of its resources at the English Premiership.

They complemented their ‘live’ coverage of Barcelona and Real Madrid’s games with the excellent magazine mid-week programme Revista de La Liga where Spain-based journalists Graham Hunter and Guillem Balague would delve into the league.

But, bit by bit, Sky chipped away at its own golden goose. They ditched Revista and their half-time and full-time analysis.

They also lost the Champions League rights to BT Sport.

At a time when they needed to protect what they held, Sky kissed goodbye to La Liga TV rights this season, with internet channel Eleven Sports snapping up Spanish and Italian football for the next three years.

It is understood Sky would not budge on their £18m offer for La Liga. Eleven Sports took advantage of Sky’s frugal approach.

It could prove a disastrous move for Sky. Despite losing the Champions League and La Liga rights, the subscription fees keep climbing.

Many Sky customers are tied into 18-month discounted deals – but unless they up their game the satellite giant will haemorrhage viewers.

In the past, sports fans wouldn’t look twice at their monthly bills when they were being fed a diet of Champions League football, La Liga football, major golf tournaments and the English Premiership.

Now, bills will be scrutinised more and customers will be arguing to get out of their 18-month contracts so they have the option of moving their hard cash to Eleven Sports – or perhaps keep the money in their pockets.

The weird thing is the more the TV sports market fragments, the more customers are expected to pay. Competition should be driving down subscription costs – but Sky and BT Sport (who lost Serie A to Eleven Sports) are trying to resist the inevitable.

A Fish and Chip shop can’t call itself a Fish and Chip shop if you go in each time and ask for fish but are told there are only chips available. And yet, the customer is asked to foot the bill for the price of a fish supper.

Sky, quite clearly, have put their faith in the English Premiership being its main attraction – but there are only so many mind-numbing mid-table fixtures you can watch before realising that Bournemouth versus Everton hardly amounts to a Super Sunday.

Perhaps Sky and BT Sport are banking on Eleven Sports struggling and that they’ll be forced to sell many of the La Liga and Serie A games back to them.

And if their botched coverage of last week’s US PGA tournament is a sign of things to come, Eleven Sports will sink fairly quickly.

It’s a high-wire strategy on behalf of Sky and BT Sport to bank on a competitor’s failure especially now that Amazon and Facebook are making decisive moves into the football market with the latter beaming ‘live’ La Liga games in Asia this season.

Of course, there are serious, more long-term questions to be asked of club owners and league presidents over the lack of exposure their games will receive in Europe itself.

The clubs might be getting the cash windfall, for now, from Eleven Sports but advertising revenue could take a hit because of small internet audiences in Europe.

La Liga is searching for new, lucrative markets and announced yesterday they will play a round of games in America to sell its brand.

But surely there is a breaking point. Maybe we're close to reaching it.

Perhaps football fans will reach the stage where they get fed up with scaling pay walls; they will start to lose enthusiasm for attaching HDMI cables from one appliance to another and lose patience with a Wifi signal that dips in and out.

In this day and age, watching big sports events was supposed to be convenient, a luxurious past-time even.

Football was never meant to be watched sitting at your kitchen table, head buried in your phone or your snazzy lap-top.

Maybe watching Match of the Day and recording it on a retro VHS video recorder is the future.

Maybe ‘Midweek Sports Special will make a comeback and we’ll watch 30-second clips of Lionel Messi.

Maybe that’s all that we really need.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 for the first month to get full access


Today's horoscope


See a different horoscope: