Sky Sports’ attempts to lay their hands on anything to show has known no bounds in the past few days, from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on a Skype call in his kitchen to a virtual F1 race featuring Ben Stokes.
If the company wasn’t suffering enough, a report by Enders Research on Wednesday showed that live TV viewing has risen by 25 per cent during the lockdown.
The problem is that next to none of that business is heading the way of Britain’s most innovative sports broadcaster.
Leading broadcasters in sport are feeling the financial effects of the coronavirus crisis
The company will not disclose how many people have paused subscriptions since they — unlike BT Sport — provided that option to prevent a haemorrhaging of customers.
This kind of punishment is like nothing the business has known. The question consuming every Premier League club board is whether Sky and BT will demand a rebate for some or all of the £414million owed for the non-fulfilment of fixtures if the 2019-20 season is not completed. It is an existential question.
The reasons why broadcasters could ask for a fair chunk of that cash back relate to the companies’ own bottom line.
That Enders Research report pointed out football is a vital driver of pay-TV at this time of year. Customers subscribe on impulse, they said, ‘as competition heats up for the top places and in the fight to avoid relegation’.
Sky Sports have taken an innovative approach during the coronavirus lockdown
Even if Sky had sport to offer, they could not acquire viewers to see it: they have abandoned all new connections until June.
Sky Sports managing director Rob Webster and his deputy Jonathan Licht are in daily contact with the Premier League but there is no indication of the broadcaster’s intentions — because no one knows how this crisis will evolve.
‘It’s like the political question about what the endgame is to the lockdown,’ said one executive. ‘At the moment, no one can say.’
The consensus in the football and TV industries, though, is that Sky and BT are going to have to bear some of the brunt.
The ‘zero option’ of turning off the tap would cause particular devastation to clubs such as Bournemouth and Watford, for whom TV revenues are respectively 88 per cent and 83 per cent of their earnings.
Sky’s status as one of the foundation stones of the Premier League — effectively a co-creator — makes the idea of them bailing out uniquely difficult.
Bournemouth are one of the clubs who could be left devastated if broadcasters ask for rebate
‘Sky and the Premier League have grown up together,’ said sports business analyst Richard Gillis, creator of the influential Unofficial Partner podcast.
‘They’ve been entwined commercially since the early 1990s. We’re into the realm of the unknown, but it’s hard to see a scenario in which Sky bring the Premier League down. The length and strength of the relationship with the Premier League is so