Wednesday Whinge – Premier League? What Premier League? Time to hold Optus to account

It was not hard to predict. I mean you only have to read my thoughts from a few months ago to know this was coming, but it has now actually happened. There is officially more exposure and discussion around the A-League than around the Premier League in Australia and we have Optus to thank. Well sort of. Who would have thought that this was even a remote possibility a few years ago? It is an interesting one for bosses of the Premier League. Are they more interested in the big figure Optus paid for the rights or are they more concerned now at the lack of exposure that it is being given in Australia?

Now do not get me wrong, the A-League is a good product, but in terms of soccer (football) standards, it still has a way to go. It is not the most skilful competition in the world, nor are the best players in the world playing here. There are only a few teams and refereeing standards are average at best. There is no way that without Optus’ terrible coverage and poor accessibility of the Premier League that the A-League would be enjoying the flow of the conversation and the media boost that it is.

Optus has effectively killed the Premier League in Australia. Take this as an example. I get up last Sunday morning to watch a game between Tottenham and Swansea on replay given it was on at some ungodly hour of the night. As it turns out, Optus only have access to show replays of 290 of the 380 Premier League games this season. That smells of a company refusing to spend anymore money, in order to have complete access to a product. What a farce! How do you decide which games you replay and which ones you do not? If you are having such a stranglehold on the rights, you cannot do things half-baked.

There are several more issues too plaguing the Optus network including buffering when watching live games and the fact that you have to turn off any sort of phone notification that gives you the score while watching live. It turns out that Optus do not show the games down to the minute live. The whole thing just seems to be one big experiment and it is doing nothing, but hurting long time fans of the game in Australia. If it is allowed to continue it will hurt the Premier League’s own revenue stream from this country. You only have to look at the Optus Sport Twitter handle on a Saturday night to see the complaints and frustrations occurring regularly on their watch. It is simply not good enough.

Despite the backlash, in recent months Optus have hinted that this is only the beginning. It is highly unlikely this will be the last time we see this company pull a stunt like this. It is clear that they think that it will be a revenue raiser. It could be, but will it be sustainable? As of next season Optus customers on plans of under $85 will have to pay for access to the Premier League, which is only going to increase Optus’ bottom line further in the short term. Be warned too, because if you currently have a subscription and do not unsubscribe it will roll over and you will be charged $15 a month if you happen to fall under that $85 mark. But what about the longer term? Optus are said to have thrown their hand in the pie for the rights to the A-League. One can only hope that these are not exclusive rights as that would be an absolute disaster for that sport and must not be allowed to happen, no matter the coin they throw at it.

Telecommunication companies bidding and gaining sports broadcasting rights is the likely way of the future. Given that, these companies have to get it right and put maximum effort into giving consumers the best possible product, as well as furthering the sport. If they do not do this everyone including the companies themselves will lose out. It is simply not fair to the viewer or the sport itself to do things half-heartedly. If consumers are paying good money and being locked into long-term contracts in order to view their beloved sport, they should be able to expect elite viewing standards in return. The Premier League or any sport for that matter is not something to be experimented with. Decisions on these ideas should be being made by people who love and understand sport. If you have the rights, we as consumers expect access to every game live and then again via replay, we expect games to actually be live, not in even a few seconds of delay, no buffering, no pausing and a good quality stream. At the moment, very few of these things are consistently happening through Optus’ coverage of the Premier League.

So Optus, we have all accepted that you have entered the sporting market. Congratulations and welcome along, but we expect better. Fox Sports have set the standard and you simply need to match that now as a minimum. A failure to do so may not cause revenue issues straight away, but it will impact on your bottom line down the track, don’t you worry. You only have to look at the reduced conversation occurring just a few months into the new Premier League season. You’ve been warned. It has been a big mistake going out on your own and perhaps on selling some of the games would have been a better option. Time to get it right.

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