The Premier League is facing a wave of criticism for charging fans £14.95 ($19.39) to watch games via pay per view (PPV).
With fans still not permitted to attend games, all fixtures have been made available to watch live in the UK.
But the five matches per round not initially selected as part of broadcast packages have been made available via Sky Sports Box Office and BT Sport Box Office for close to $20 a match — a price that has prompted strong reactions from those connected to the game.
“What can I say about it? I think football should not be free, but affordable,” said West Brom manager Slaven Bilic after his side’s 0-0 draw against Burnley, the first goalless draw of the Premier League season and a game that was available via PPV.
“I always used to say that football is not polo, football is not golf. Football is sport for masses. It’s a working-class sport and it should be affordable to everybody.”
When the Premier League resumed amid the coronavirus pandemic last season, all games were available to watch on Sky, BT, BBC and Amazon Prime.
Sky made 25 games available free-to-air after the restart, while matches on Prime were also shown free.
Now fans are faced with the choice of paying the PPV charge on top of regular subscription fees to access Premier League games.
The Football Supporters’ Association encouraged the Premier League to “drop the price” of the PPV charge and former Manchester United defender Gary Neville, who works as a pundit for Sky, said it was a “really bad move” by the Premier League when the announcement was made.
The Premier League did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment regarding criticism of the PPV model.
The current arrangement is in place until the end of October when it will be reviewed by the Premier League.
“If it is in place now of course then I’m hoping it’s not going to be for a sustained period of time because like I say, football supporters — it’s hurting them at the moment not being able to be at the games and the relief they get is through watching it on tele,” Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers told reporters before his side’s game against Aston Villa on Sunday.
“We wouldn’t want to be losing many games to pay per view. But let’s hope it’s not going to be for a long period.”
When asked by CNN how many viewers paid to watch the three PPV games aired last weekend, Sky said it would not share figures as they as “commercially sensitive.”
It also said the initiative had been driven by the Premier League “in order to ensure fans of each club can continue to watch their team, and also to generate some revenue in light of no matchday income for clubs,” according to a statement on October 9.
BT said Box Office games are “very different to a normal subscription event — they are not measured by BARB (the UK’s Broadcasters Audience Research Board),” adding it would also not be able to provide viewing figures.
Some fans, meanwhile, have opted to boycott the PPV matches, instead donating the cost of a game to food banks across the UK via a #CharityNotPPV campaign.
A protest by Newcastle fans has reportedly raised $25,930 (£20,000) for the city’s West End Foodbank and similar initiatives have also been backed by supporters of Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester United and Manchester City, to name a few.
“We are joining the #BoycottPPV #CharityNotPPV protest against the greed of clubs and broadcasters — £15 is obscene and we refuse to pay it,” said a tweet from a Manchester City fan group supporting foodbanks.
“Instead we have donated our fee … & would love you to join us.”
Liverpool supporters group Spirit of Shankly also called for a boycott, encouraging fans to donate to Merseyside food banks.
“It is unacceptable,” a statement on the group’s website said of the PPV charges.
“They (Premier League clubs) have to rethink a much-reduced, affordable cost, if there has to be a charge at all. Ideally these games should be free to air.”
A petition launched on Change.org to stop PPV football has so far garnered more than 2,600 signatures.