As we approach the final day of the Premier League campaign, so much remains at stake.
Is the title heading to Manchester City or Liverpool? Will it be Arsenal or Tottenham Hotspur who will play in the Champions League next season? Can West Ham United finish ahead of Manchester United and qualify for the Europa League? Who manages to avoid relegation out of Leeds United and Burnley?
Having so many unanswered questions should create a Sunday filled with drama, ecstasy, and grief in equal measures.
But fans watching from the UK will – legally – only be able to watch three games, so potentially miss key moments, while those in America, for example, have the option to choose from all 10 games.
Athleticism explain why…
What are the key dates?
The most notable games are Manchester City v Aston Villa and Liverpool v Wolves as either home team can still win the Premier League title. Both matches are shown on Sky Sports.
Elsewhere, Arsenal v Everton and Norwich v Tottenham Hotspur are also crucial due to the race to finish fourth and qualify for the Champions League.
At the bottom of the table, Brentford v Leeds United and Burnley v Newcastle United are important because the relegation third place must be filled and it will be either Burnley or Leeds who fall.
Sky Sports have chosen Brentford v Leeds as the match they will show live alongside Manchester City and Liverpool matches.
Why are we only showing a handful?
Although it is the last day of the season and so much remains undecided, there are the same number of matches available for Sky Sports (three) for live coverage as at any other weekend.
The only difference is that everyone kicks off at the same time for reasons of sporting integrity, which is the same process seen in the final matches in the group stages of an international tournament.
BT Sport used up its allocation last weekend, which is why it’s not showing any of Sunday’s games.
Why aren’t all matches shown in the UK?
There are a myriad of reasons for this, one being that the Premier League does not sell the rights to all 380 games per season.
For years, Richard Scudamore, the league’s former general manager, was aware of the dangers of diluting the market with too many games. Less can sometimes be more, and that’s certainly the case with the way the English top flight thinks.
The Premier League is seen as a valuable asset, so it makes good business sense – especially in the UK – to keep consumers coming back for more as demand remains high.
For the 2019-22 UK broadcast rights, the number of matches made available to be shown live has increased from 168 to 200, which is mainly due to Amazon Prime and BT Sport acquiring the last two of seven packages.
Amazon Prime has shown that it’s possible to stream every match of a fixture series at once, as they have the rights to both midweek fixture series in December.
Does this have anything to do with the “blackout”?
Generally speaking, yes.
And that’s a major factor in why the Premier League holds its final round of fixtures on a Sunday.
The blackout rule has been in place since the 1960s and prohibits the broadcast of matches between 2.45pm and 5.15pm on Saturdays to protect spectators across the EFL and all divisions below the Premier League.
Saturday at 3pm is the traditional kick-off time for all weekend games in the UK.
It is designed to help clubs that rely on entry receipts rather than TV offers for the majority of their income. By moving their final round of fixtures to a Sunday, this allows the Premier League to have multiple matches shown simultaneously.
What’s the deal overseas?
Some will look enviously at the package offered to American fans, as they have the option of watching any game they want.
NBC Universal, the US broadcaster which holds exclusive rights to broadcast the Premier League in the US, has access to all 380 games and recently extended its TV deal until 2028 at a cost of over £2bn (more than double what he paid in 2015).
It’s worth pointing out that overseas broadcasters don’t have to worry about the impact on attendance for other leagues and sports, while also not having to worry about fans attending games.
US consumers can watch the games via the NBC Universal network: Manchester City vs Aston Villa will be on NBC, Liverpool vs Wolves is on USA Network, Norwich vs Tottenham can be watched via SYFY, Arsenal vs Everton on CNBC and Burnley vs Newcastle on Gulf.
All matches will also be streamed on Peacock Premium.
NBC is sending Rebecca Lowe, their US-based studio host, to Anfield while their UK-based team will be at the Etihad Stadium.
Other countries – due to broadcast deals they have with the Premier League – such as Brazil, China, India and Mozambique, among others, will broadcast all 10 matches.
How will fans follow games that aren’t on TV?
Fans can either wait for highlights from the BBC’s Match of the Day program on Sunday evening, follow Athleticism live blog, keep checking social media, or tune into their local radio station (as long as they have a broadcast deal).
In previous years, Sky Sports tended to show a quick preview of what was happening in other games they were entitled to, if something big happened.
The reality is that due to the lack of official broadcasts, a significant number of fans in England will watch their teams play on illegal streams.
Do the experts think this should change?
“It’s not an easy question to answer simply because of the system-wide implications it has,” says Paolo Pescatore, founder and technology, media and telecommunications analyst at PP Foresight. “Basically it comes down to the rights and how the Premier League wants to bundle those rights in the future.
“There was an extra slot that was found (Saturday, 7.45pm) so it’s not like the Premier League is alien to making more games available.
“It’s more about trying to maximize the value of the rights, but also finding the right balance so as not to kill the product, which is a valuable asset.”
Pescatore explained how the pandemic has helped the Premier League and broadcasters experiment with showing multiple matches, but suggested the cost of live streaming some matches, perhaps not the most glamorous, would have cost more than that was not worth.
“We’re not talking about £50,000; we’re talking serious money beyond the initial investment to secure TV rights,” he added.
“When you have more games available, the impact that has on overall viewing is something to consider. Back when all of those games (during the pandemic) were available on a Sunday, some of those games weren’t not widely viewed and did not really justify the investment devoted to them.
“That would be a partial explanation of why we might not see this happen in the future.”
But doesn’t BT Sport show all UEFA Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League matches?
Yes, they do.
BT Sport has renewed its three-year contract – at a cost of £1.2bn – with UEFA to have exclusive rights to broadcast all 420 matches.
Interest has remained high in the competitions even though the fans, you could say, are diluted with several games to choose from, but they tend to be big-money games due to the nature of who plays in the Champions League.
For example, a neutral fan is more likely to want to watch Barcelona v Real Madrid than Burnley v Norwich.
“It was a phenomenal success to have someone like BT Sport on board as the exclusive UK broadcaster as they made all matches available on small and large screen devices,” added Pescatore.
Is it the same in other sports?
Blackouts in America are commonplace and there are several different types, including location-based, device-based, and streaming-based.
Location-based blackouts are further divided into two categories: national and regional. If a national broadcast network (Fox, CBS, ABC, etc.) owns the television rights to a sports game, fans who live in that team’s area are unlikely to see it on another channel, which which means that they must subscribe to the national network.
A regional blackout means that only consumers in a specific area can watch the game, as opposed to being seen by a nationwide audience.
The National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Baseball (MLB) are all affected by the outages.
Will this change in the future?
The no-go rule has been around since the 1960s, so you wouldn’t think that would change in the immediate future.
Additionally, the Premier League extended their TV rights deal last year and this will run until 2025.
That means that won’t change in the UK until 2025 at the earliest, and even then you’d expect the Premier League to avoid, as they’ve managed to do so far, diluting the market and decrease its product.
(Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)