Let's Make Football Free Over Christmas
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The Christmas period is widely considered the best time of the year for a Premier League football fan. Players and managers may groan under the weight of a packed fixture list, but for fans the extra volume of fixtures (at a time when any excuse to escape awkward family interactions is useful) are greatly received. But what if we went even further? What if we made every game played over the Christmas period available to watch on television, even for those without Sky or BT?
The level of excitement over the few extra games on the TV at Christmas we get currently, shows just how starved the English Premier League fan is of football viewing. For most of the year the best a Premier League fan can hope for is 2-3 games a week being broadcast, all on paid for services. Even highlights packages aren't as readily available as they could be. Compare it, for example, to the experience of an NFL fan in the States. Every game is broadcast, with an online subscription available that lets you watch all of them, and a channel that all day switches between the best bits of all the matches. The highlights are also easily and brilliantly packaged on NFL.com.
So how about this for an idea. For the month or so over the Christmas period, the Premier League makes every game played available to be broadcast on terrestrial television and online via their website. For the first time fans would actually have a choice of the game they watch and enjoy a Christmas period where they are guaranteed to see their team play.
Now, this may just seem like an act of charity, the sort of thing unlikely to lead the Premier League to re-negotiate a lucrative TV deal. But this isn't just a wonderful present for fans, it actually makes perfect sense. Because as I referenced above it’s a time where a lot of people are off work/school and looking for something to do, particularly kids on school holidays. What better way to ensure that the future of Premier League fans stays strong, than to take down all barriers to fans and young fans in particular to enjoying the game over Christmas. It isn’t just a present, it’s a strategy that could make a genuine difference in growing the game.
Probably the argument used against it, and the classic argument for any kind of restriction of broadcasting sport, is that it hurts clubs ability to sell out stadiums. It’s an argument that, to be honest, I’ve never really bought. Watching games on TV and in the stadium are still completely different experiences, and they attract different audiences. Of course there will be some people who might reject going to the stadium in favour of watching at home, but I find it hard to believe that incredibly popular Premier League clubs would fail to sell out their oversubscribed stadiums. And if they do, it would be further evidence that they need to bring their prices down.
It might sound like a pipe dream, but in a world where being a football fan is more expensive than ever, a month of free football would help secure the future strength of football for fans up and down the country. Like many of the best Christmas presents it would cost a bit up front, but its value would be felt for generations to come.