Premier League’s Dramatic Final Day Masks a Bigger Issue

By John Mercury May 17, 2024

There is an irony at the heart of the sports-as-entertainment business that most television executives would acknowledge but very few would ever publicly admit. It is that the part of the game — or the broadcast, or the content, or the product — that they care about the most is the one that the smallest part of their audience will watch.

Broadcasting soccer is expensive. It starts with a network’s committing billions of dollars for the rights to show the competition, and it builds from there. Each live broadcast of a domestic game is a six-figure commitment. That can be doubled, at least, for a game on foreign soil, once hotels are reserved, equipment transported and flights booked.

And then, of course, there is what is still called — though not always that accurately — the talent. Networks pay out big salaries to be able to have the most familiar faces, the most famous names and the most compelling characters sit awkwardly around a low-slung table, garlanding the coverage.

This, of course, is the irony. A huge amount of time, thought and money goes into those segments: the fevered buildup, the halftime fat-chewing, the postgame bone picking. But, as a rule, the majority of fans will see little of that: Many viewers turn on just before kickoff, use halftime to make or dispose of a drink, and then switch off a few moments after the final whistle.

The investment can be explained by the fact that those are the elements of a broadcast that most resemble television. They can assemble the best cast. They can have the best material. They can stand on the most exquisite staging. They are the parts that reflect the work of the producers. The game itself is outside of their control. Maybe it will be enthralling. Maybe it will be mind-numbing. But the studio? The studio is something the networks can control.

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