On sports streaming services: A rant

On sports streaming services: A rant

Not all streams are as pleasant as this one

Evening all. Apart from a string of glorified international football friendly – sorry, “Nations League” – fixtures, there’s not a lot going on today. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to get something off my chest that has been bugging me for a while now. Let’s get into it.

This week, the Premier League announced that the 15 matches scheduled so far for this season that will not be shown on live TV will be available for fans to watch on Pay Per View. Good shit, you might say. However, there’s a fairly significant catch: each game will cost £14.95. So fans already paying extortionate amounts for Sky Sports and BT Sport subscriptions will have to pay an extra 15 quid just because their club’s match wasn’t deemed important enough for live TV coverage. They are in essence paying three times – BT, Sky and PPV – just for one game.

Now, I should point out here that this does not affect me at all. I live in Mexico and thus don’t have access to either of the three options even if I wanted it (which I don’t, as I shall later explain). But it seems to me to be yet another cynical and opportunistic money-grab by the Premier League and the media giants that currently control the game in the UK, with no consideration given to its impact on fans.

This also brings up a wider issue concerning the issue of sports viewing around the world. I think the options available to sports fans at the moment are absolute b*****cks. I’ll use myself as a case study. Growing up as a sports fan in the UK without any cable or satellite networks, I naturally lent heavily on the BBC for most of my live sports coverage. My passion for rugby, tennis, snooker, cricket (on Channel 4), and Formula One grew out of my access and exposure to those particular sports via free-to-air TV.

But I am now all grown up (at least on paper) and my life has taken me to Mexico. My passion for sport is as strong as ever but local TV channels, including the paid ones, basically only show football. I love football, but I have absolutely no interest in watching a replay of Hoffenheim vs Hertha Berlin while there is a test match between England and Pakistan at Old Trafford. I considered buying an annual subscription, but what is the point if it only has one or two matches per month that interest me? Of course, being outside the UK I can no longer access the BBC’s live sports coverage so I am left with only one option: illegal streams.

Now, streams are a difficult subject. One the one hand, I love them for enabling me to indulge and watch practically any live sport that tickles my fancy. When I was an impoverished student or a young professional trying to make my way in the world of work, I relied on them entirely. I did not mind the poor visual quality, pop-up ads and general frustration – not to mention illegality – that comes with streaming because I knew that there was no way I could pay for the Sky package that would have allowed me to watch whatever it was on HDTV.

Things are different now. I am fortunate enough to be earning a little bit more money, which goes even further given the low living costs in Mexico. I can and want to pay to watch the sport I love. But the options aren’t available to me. For example, I pay an annual subscription to Tennis TV, which provides great coverage of ATP tournaments. But because of rights issues it doesn’t show the Grand Slams. So I have access to all of the tennis tournaments around the world except for the four most important ones. What is the point in that? Last weekend, I would have happily paid $20 to watch the French Open final in HDTV, but that was simply not an option. I ended up streaming it and missed most of the first set as a result.

I understand that things are complicated by TV rights wars and whatnot, but it is just so frustrating that the fans – the ones that provide the fuel for the global sporting industry’s engine – are always last on the priority list. Amazon Prime has recently made moves to acquire some of the rights for international rugby matches, for example. But again, as a Mexican resident, I don’t have access to that on my Prime subscription because they think that the majority of Mexican viewers won’t be interested in it. They are of course right – most locals probably think an open side flanker is some kind of military special ops unit – but why should I have to suffer as a result? In a globalized world where more and more people are living abroad, I should have access to everything that Amazon Prime offers regardless of my location. Just because I live in Mexico, it doesn’t mean that I want to watch an endless stream of Latino dramas and soap operas.

And even if Amazon did provide me with all of the sport it offers, it still has to compete with Netflix, Apple and all of the other behemoths for the rights. So, unless I sign up to absolutely everything and compromise with a diet of nothing but beans and rice, there is still going to be the problem of “I want to watch Game X, but that is only available on streaming service Y.”

There must be a solution to this, and so I am calling on any budding entrepreneurs and tech geniuses out there to create it. Why can’t there be an all-inclusive sports streaming service that has absolutely everything? Well, not everything of course – I can probably go without watching the Brazilian state field hockey championships – but everything that has a relatively global audience. You could charge a nominal monthly fee for access to the platform, a la Netflix, and then charge a few dollars for every match or tournament that you want to watch.

That would enable us, the fans, to take back a bit of control over what we watch. Let’s say I pay $30 to have full access to all courts at Wimbledon for the two weeks. Then I can choose to watch my favourite player on Court 12 in the first round instead of being forced to sit through yet another straight-sets victory for Djokovic over the world number 3,543. The TV cameras are there anyway, so I don’t see the problem in providing access to a live stream. Of course the commentary and analysis would be saved for the showcourts, but if I am truly invested in the result of a match, all of that stuff is just an added bonus. At least I would be actively choosing what I watch instead of having it dictated to me.

I know there are probably a myriad of reasons – mainly to do with money and power – why this will never come to fruition. But if anyone out there wants to create it, you can be sure that I shall be the first subscriber.

Right, rant done. I’ve got some ramen and dumplings on the way. I’ll be back here with more on Friday. Till then.