Satellite sports broadcaster, Sky Sports, has played a crucial, though largely hidden role in the revitalization of English club football. In the early 1990s English football was in a crisis, with match attendances dropping, English teams banned from European competition and the top flight of the Football League lagging well behind the top divisions in Spain, Italy and Germany.
Many football fans regard the creation of the Premier League, a breakaway league formed by the 20 most powerful football clubs in England, as the turning point for English club football. However, not many fans are aware of the fact that the financial support offered by Sky Sports was integral to the instant success that the Premier League enjoyed after its inception.
The Pay Per View Controversy
Prior to the creation of the Premier League, top flight football matches in England had been broadcast for free by the BBC. Whilst broadcasting revenue for the Football League had been increasing steadily during the 1980s, the final BBC broadcasting deal of £44m over four years would prove to be a fraction of what Premier League football would soon generate.
In 1992 the newly formed Premier League made the decision to make an unprecedented break with convention, and to sell the broadcasting rights for England’s most popular sports league to a pay-per-view satellite television service. Sky Sports put in a mammoth offer of £191 for the broadcasting rights of the first five seasons of the Premier League – almost a fourfold increase in broadcast revenue compared to the previous BBC deal.
The transfer of broadcasting rights to BSkyB sparked outrage in Britain, where football fans had grown accustomed to watching their favorite clubs play for free. However, the public was soon to see the benefits of millions of dollars being poured into the coffers of the country’s biggest clubs as the significant increase in broadcast revenue allowed clubs to recruit world-class players, and also to improve stadiums and facilities.
A New View of League Football
Within the space of two years the re-organization of top flight English football, combined with increased broadcasting revenue, served to revitalize English club football. Deprived of free access to games, the public poured into the stadiums of Premiership teams and packed grandstands, significantly boosting gate revenues for participating clubs.
Increased revenue soon had a knock-on effect on the performance of Premier League clubs in Europe. By the time the Premier League signed its second deal with Sky in 1997, valued at £670 million, Manchester United had emerged as the leading power in English football. Two years later United would become the first English club in 15 years to win in Europe, claiming the 1999 UEFA Champions League Football title.
A New Millennium
The growth sparked by the 1992 deal with Sky Sports has had a lasting impact on the Premier League. Today the English top flight is easily the most popular football league in the world, and has attracted hundreds of millions of fans in emerging Asian markets. However, Sky Sports no longer enjoys complete control of Premiership broadcasting rights.
Instead, a ruling by the European Commission has seen Sky forced to split the premiership pie with international sports broadcasting rivals Setanta. Together, the two companies spent a staggering £1.7 billion in securing broadcasting rights for the 2007-2010 seasons. This massive investment in English football has helped propel a number of English clubs into the ranks of the highest earning football clubs in the world, ensuring that English football continues to enjoy the benefits of an unpopular revolution that shook the football world in 1992.