Premier League fans have been warned of the possibility of Sunday night kick-offs as part of the next television rights deal out to tender this autumn.
Weekends could be crammed with action, with four TV kick off times mooted for Sunday alone, as the top tier sells an extra 50 matches to broadcasters.
Some insiders anticipate extra matches will be accommodated in the schedules by Women’s Super League proposals to move to the Saturday 3pm blackout slot.
Wall-to-wall coverage for the Premier League is possible on Sundays, with broadcasters predicting regular noon kick-offs with the last match potentially beginning after 6pm. Those times were denied by a source close to the bidding process, although the informed figure declined to go into further detail.
The women’s game has enjoyed some of its best audiences for the WSL on Sky’s Sunday evening coverage after its headline Sunday men’s match.
However, later kick offs on weekends have been an increasing point of contention for travelling fans in both women’s and men’s football. The Community Shield kick-off between Manchester City and Arsenal, for instance, was brought forward by 90 minutes - from 5.30pm to 4pm - following fan complaints about return-home journey times.
Sources say proposals to move the WSL to the Saturday 3pm slot, where there is no other live football available, are advancing amid efforts to drive its audiences to a new level. Women’s club executives gathered on Monday to advance discussions around creating a code or charter for what they hope will be the first billion pound women’s football league. A new private equity firm, ‘NewCo’, is being set up to run the WSL and Championship independently from the FA.
That could be an ideal outcome for TV rights executives at the men’s Premier League, which is understood to have fended off suggestions from both clubs and broadcasters in recent months over the 3pm slot.
At least one of English football’s growing army of American owners had been lobbying behind the scenes to abandon the 3pm blackout. Two Premier League club executives also told Telegraph Sport on Tuesday that they would also be open to breaking a rule stretching back at least a decade before the modern Premier League was formed.
Some broadcasters were also rallying behind a potential rule change, with one telling the Premier League that Saturday afternoons were a “gateway drug” for pirate streams.
However, with women’s football presenting a less politically contentious option for the 3pm slot, insiders suggest there will be four designated kick-offs for the Premier League on Sundays between noon and 6.30pm. More matches will also be available for the Friday and Monday slots in the next TV deal, with sources close to talks expecting five sets of 50 match packs to be put out to tender next month.
The league is also understood to be planning to sell off rights packages across four years rather than three for the first time. This would make the league more closely aligned with models in Europe which have started adopting auctions every five years. The major advantage of this shift is for new bidders attempting to get a foothold in football broadcasting as short-term packages are higher risk when investing in production.
Club executives could be briefed on rights sell-off plans as they gather in central London for the league’s shareholders meeting on Thursday. With more European fixtures than ever, some teams have expressed frustrations at the lack of televised action over the coming weekends. This weekend, because of European fixtures, there are several 2pm Sunday fixtures which will not be televised while Super Sunday’s 4.30pm match will be missing from Sky schedules the following weekend because of the Ryder Cup.
Despite more pressure on the fixture calendar than ever, sources close to the Premier League maintained they remained committed to Article 48 of Uefa’s rules, which allow members to designate a two-and-a-half-hour weekend slot when live football is banned from screens.
However, the FA’s director of women’s football, Baroness Sue Campbell, first floated the possibility to MPs in July that WSL matches can be moved to drive up audiences. “Whatever we do, we need regular opportunities to view games,” she said.
The current Sky Sports and BBC’s agreement with the WSL ends next summer. Speaking at a Culture, Media and Sport Committee meeting on women’s sport on Wednesday, Baroness Campbell said the “random” nature of TV scheduling was affecting growth.
Valuations will also be a major unknown for the men’s top tier as domestic valuations have gone untested since February 2018 when an initial £4.5 billion deal was agreed. Amazon has since come to the market and a three-year rollover in cycles at a price closer to £5 billion was agreed midway through the pandemic.
BT Sport – the main rival to Sky – became TNT Sports in July following its buyout by Discovery and will remain one of the big two bidders. Under the current rolling deal due to expire in 2025, the 200 available games are split into seven packages shared between Sky, BT and Amazon. Sky Sports dominated the current UK cycle, with four sets of rights, equating to 128 matches per season. BT Sport soon to be TNT Sports - owns two packages - one for the Saturday 1230 kick offs and the other for two midweek rounds.
Amazon bought one package, which allows its Prime service to broadcast one set of Bank Holiday Christmas fixtures and a set of midweek fixtures. In the latest auction, the total number of available matches is likely to increase to 250 but be split between five packs. New contenders in the process are expected to include DAZN.
Since 2016, domestic rights have largely plateaued but record Premier League revenues have been buoyed by a booming overseas market. NBC signed a £2billion agreement in late 2021 to exclusively show the Premier League to its audience in the US alone. The overseas market is now estimated to be worth in excess of £5bn to clubs.