BBC to show first-ever live Premier League action

UK public broadcaster the BBC will show four live Premier League matches when the season restarts, with the league provisionally scheduling a resumption on June 17.

While the BBC has been generally been the Premier League’s domestic highlights rights-holder since its inception, the broadcaster has never before shown a live match. Indeed, it is the first time the BBC has shown any live top-tier English league football since the 1987-88 season.

The broadcaster will also show additional highlights programmes as the Premier League prepares to embark upon a blitz of fixtures following the suspension of football in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Each of the remaining 92 Premier League matches will be broadcast live across the league’s existing domestic rights-holders: Sky Sports, BT Sport, the BBC and Amazon Prime.

Pay-television broadcaster Sky, which holds the bulk of the league’s live rights in the 2019-22 cycle, will broadcast 64 of the remaining 92 matches. It will make 25 matches in its quota available to free-to-air digital terrestrial viewers through its PickTV channel. These matches are those that Sky had previously not been scheduled to broadcast.

Telco BT will show 20 matches, up from the eight it had originally been due to broadcast. The matches will only be available to BT Sport customers.

Technology giant Amazon will have rights to four additional matches. It exclusively showed two match weeks earlier in the season as part of its existing Premier League deal.

Free-to-air push

The UK government had been keen for the remaining Premier League matches to be available to as wide an audience as possible given that all 92 fixtures will be played behind closed doors due to Covid-19.

In preparation for behind-closed-doors matches, the English and Scottish FAs last month lifted their bans on the televisual broadcast of Saturday 3pm football fixtures for the remainder of the season.

It is coup for the BBC to have secured any live matches given previous strong opposition from the league’s pay-television partners, which had sought to protect the value of their live rights. It had been mooted that Sky and BT were considering showing matches on their YouTube channels to meet any free-to-air requirements.

The Premier League has scheduled two matches for June 17: Aston Villa v Sheffield United and Manchester City v Arsenal. This would be followed by a full match round beginning on June 19.

It plans a staggered match schedule for the remainder of the season, with fixture slots available every day of the week.

The Premier League was under pressure to resume matches to protect rights fees from international broadcasters that would otherwise have to be reimbursed. It is thought the league was less concerned about Sky and BT seeking refunds given the existing relationships.