22 March ~ The BBC may end their live coverage of the Football League and the League Cup from 2012-13 due to planned cuts set to be announced later today. This will leave Sky and ESPN to fight it out for the rights with no live league football on terrestrial television. ITV will continue to show the FA Cup, Champions League and England games, while Channel 5 shows the odd Europa League game. With Sky and ESPN already owning the rights to live Premier League games this news will come as a blow to football fans who can't afford to pay hefty subscription fees.
The Beeb only broadcast ten league games a season, leaving fans restricted to the basic five channels starved of live football as it is. Football is our national game but, with Sky's continuing domination of coverage, it is being taken away from many people. The highlights packages will remain on the BBC, but that is not enough, live games must stay as well.
When the BBC gained the rights to show matches it seemed to signal a loosening of Sky's grip on coverage. While it's clearly unrealistic to expect football to ever return completely to terrestrial television, I was hopeful that just a little more may migrate over. It seems though that the rise of money in the sport, driven by Sky's millions in television rights has meant that competing for the ability to show live games isn't deemed worth it by the BBC. This will pain the Football League whose contract with title sponsors Npower contains a clause reducing sponsorship payments if the BBC no longer cover live matches.
What I find strange is the lack of coverage in the media. Hardly any newspapers or websites have reported this story at all. Far from the upset I expected, there seems to be something close to complete indifference as to who wins the rights – nobody cares that in order to watch any league football on television fans will have to fork out on subscription fees. I have heard it suggested that football on British television will eventually become the sole possession of pay per view channels. If these rights go to Sky or ESPN instead of the BBC it won't be a seismic shift but it will certainly be a nudge in that direction. Philip Lewis