Have you been watching the Lions tour of New Zealand on TV? No, me neither. Nor have I been watching test cricket or football’s European under 21 finals. I will not be watching the Open Golf next month, although I will be glued to the screen for Wimbledon which begins next week.
Of course, Wimbledon is one of the few major sporting events which still available to TV viewers without paying a subscription. My interest in sports dates from the 1970s when as a teenager I was able to sit in front of the telly and freely watch any sport I wanted. Since the advent of satellite and cable TV in the 1990s, more and more sports have become available only to those paying a fairly hefty monthly subscription.
There two main benefits are that the sports are receiving considerably more money for TV rights than they ever had before and that the growth of specialist sports channels means that more events are now been covered. The downside is that the audiences for these sporting events are now much smaller than when they were available free to air.
There is a real danger that people will lose interest in sports such as rugby, golf and cricket if they aren’t able to watch them in their own home. These governing bodies of these sports seem to me to have sacrificed the long term viability of their sport in return for short term financial gain.
Even football, which has led the way in subscription TV sport, is in trouble. Only this week Sky Sports announced that they were cutting the cost of their channels in a bid to halt a decline in subscriber numbers. I can’t help thinking that we have now reached the point where consumer resistance has set in and people are no longer prepared to pay more and more in order to watch TV sport.
If most sports events were free to air on terrestrial channels it would of course mean a drop in revenue for the sports concerned. But it would also result in more people were watching and therefore taking an interest in sport. The main losers would be Premiership footballers (and their agents) who would see their six figure weekly wage packets under threat. I can live with that.