Football has been a popular sport in the United Kingdom for decades, and its popularity has only grown with the emergence of televised games. In the early days, the only way to watch football was to attend the games in person, but this changed with the introduction of television in the 1930s.
Televised football in the UK began modestly, with a few matches being broadcast on the BBC and ITV. As viewership increased, more games were added to the schedule, and the production quality of the broadcasts improved. This helped to make football more accessible to fans, as they could now watch their favourite teams and players from the comfort of their own homes. The first televised football match in the UK was on the 16th of September 1937 between Arsenal and Arsenal Reserves. The match was broadcast on the BBC and marked the first time that football was televised (Naha, 2012).
The first-time a whole match was shown live on television was the 1938 FA Cup Final when Preston North End played Huddersfield Town. Even so, far more people watched the game in the stadium as only around 10,000 people at the time owned television sets. For technical reasons, only games in London could be shown on television. This included FA Cup finals and the occasional international game played at Wembley (BBC, 2022). However, this experiment of showing cup games other than finals was quickly abandoned. Although the Football Association allowed international games to be shown on television, the Football League was always reluctant to allow either highlights or live coverage of league matches as it feared it would have a negative impact on attendances.
The FA Premier League’s establishment was approved in 1992. The Division One of the new league resembled the old Football League almost exactly. The primary modification was that all TV proceeds would go to the clubs. Rupert Murdoch’s Sky TV spent £304 million over five years to broadcast several of these games live. This agreement was renewed for £650 million in 1997 (López-González, Stavros & Smith, 2017; Premier League, 2022a).
Modern day broadcasting of English football is dominated by the Premier League, which has agreements with several broadcasters in different countries. In the UK, matches are broadcast live on Sky Sports with 128 live matches and BT Sport with 52 live matches, with highlights being shown afterwards on the BBC through their ‘Match of the Day’ programme. In addition, streaming services such as Amazon Prime are also showing 20 live matches across the 2022/23 season. This has meant that fans can watch their favourite teams from anywhere in the world, making English football more accessible than ever before (Premier League, 2022b).
Overall, the evolution of televised football in the UK has played an important role in the growth of the sport, making it more accessible to fans around the world. As technology continues to improve, it will be interesting to see how the broadcasts will continue to evolve in the future.
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