The Beautiful Game
English football (soccer) has been screened on television since 1937, and since the establishment of the Premier League in 1992, it has become a very lucrative industry. As of the 2007-08 season, television rights for the 20-team Premier League are valued at close to Â£1bn each season. Based on July 2007 exchange rates, this is only marginally less than what American football's 32-team NFL receives from its TV contracts.
The BBC started its television service in 1936, although it was nearly a year before the very first televised match of football was screened â€“ a specially-arranged friendly match between Arsenal and Arsenal Reserves at Highbury on September 16, 1937. This was followed by the first international match, between England and Scotland on April 9, 1938, and the first televised FA Cup final followed soon after, on April 30 the same year, between Huddersfield Town and Preston North End.
However, coverage of football television did not expand and for the next two decades the only matches screened were FA Cup finals and the odd England v. Scotland match. The first FA Cup tie other than the final to be shown was a fifth round match between Charlton Athletic and Blackburn Rovers on February 8, 1947, but matches were sparing and only games in London could be broadcast, for technical reasons.
The advent of floodlighting led to the creation of the European Cup, designed as a midweek cup competition for the champions of European nations, in 1955. The newly formed British television station ITV saw televised football as an ideal way of gaining a share of the audience from their only rival broadcaster, the BBC. The BBC meanwhile, started showing brief highlights of matches (with a maximum of five minutes) on its Saturday-night Sports Special programme from 10 September 1955, until its cancellation in 1963. The first games featured were both from Division One - Luton Town v Newcastle United and Charlton Athletic v Everton, Kenneth Wolstenholme and Cliff Michelmore were the commentators.
The BBC had a new highlights programme from 1964 - Match of the Day. Originally shown on BBC2 and intended to train BBC cameramen for the forthcoming 1966 World Cup the format was a success and has remained on British television in some form to this day. The first game saw Liverpool beat Arsenal at Anfield.
An early attempt at live league football was made in 1960-61, when ITV agreed a deal worth Â£150,000 with the Football League to screen 26 matches; the very first live league match was on Saturday September 10, 1960 between Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers at Bloomfield Road. The match kicked off at 6:50pm with live coverage starting at 7:30 under the title The Big Game. A major blow to the TV moguls was the absence of big box office draw Stanley Matthews through injury, and the game ended 1-0 to Bolton in front of a half-empty stadium.
However ITV withdrew from the deal after first Arsenal and then Tottenham Hotspur refused them permission to shoot at their matches against Newcastle United and Aston Villa respectively, and the Football League demanded a dramatic increase in player appearance payments. ITV showed the Nat King Cole Show instead, while ironically both matches received highlights coverage from the BBC on Sports Special.
However ITV moved again into football, albeit tentatively, in 1962 when Anglia Television launched Match of the Week, which showed highlights of matches from around East Anglia. The first match shown was Ipswich Town's 3-2 defeat at the hands of Wolves at Portman Road on September 22, 1962. Tyne Tees Television in the North East of England began broadcasting local matches soon after under the title Shoot. League football was soon to gain a nationwide audience once more. In 1964, the BBC introduced Match of the Day - initially broadcast on the new BBC2. The first match was Liverpool's 3-2 victory over Arsenal at Anfield on 22 August, and the estimated audience of 20,000 was considerably less than the number of paying customers at the ground. At the time BBC2 could only be received in the London area, although by the end of Match Of The Day's first season it could be sampled in the Midlands. The programme transferred to BBC1 in the wake of England's 1966 World Cup win and at last could be received by television viewers across the UK.
There was live coverage of World Cup football on UK screens in 1954 and 1958 - however only selected matches were available. In 1954, Kenneth Wolstenholme provided commentary on the few televised matches for BBC from Switzerland - including the quarter-final between Hungary and Brazil. A thunderstorm over the Alps cut off the picture and many irate viewers wrote in to complain that the BBC had pulled the plug. The 1958 tournament in Sweden saw a greater range of matches thanks to the new Eurovision Network; the BBC and ITV both screened matches, although the networks had to overcome opposition to the coverage from the Scottish FA, who were worried that attendances at Junior football matches may be hit. The 1962 World Cup in Chile was covered in delayed form by the BBC with film having to be carried by air via the United States back to Britain. Matches were generally seen three days after they were played, though every match was covered by the BBC with commentary.
With intercontinental communications satellites in their infancy and videotape a new advance, the first tournament to gain widespread international live coverage was the 1966 tournament, which was held in England. The tournament, which England won, increased the popularity of the sport. With more football viewers than ever, Match of the Day thrived - switching from BBC Two to BBC One to reach a wider audience. ITV's regional coverage had also expanded during this period with London weekend company ATV launching Star Soccer in October 1965, Southern Television's Southern Soccer and ABC's World of Soccer also began to appear regularly in the TV Times Sunday schedules. London Weekend Television's The Big Match started in 1968, and eventually the entire ITV network's football coverage would be broadcast under its title.
The demand for football grew through the 1970s and early 1980s, and the decision to start screening live league matches was almost inevitable; a deal was struck for the start of the 1983-84 season and the first live league match since 1960 was screened on ITV, between Tottenham Hotspur and Nottingham Forest, on October 2, 1983. Spurs would also feature in the BBC's first live league match at Manchester United on a Friday night a few weeks later.
By the late 1980s the value of live TV coverage had rocketed; while a two-year contract for rights in 1983 had cost just Â£5.2m, the four-year contract exclusively landed by ITV in 1988 cost Â£44m, a fourfold increase per year. There was now a situation where live football was on TV almost every Sunday afternoon from about November onwards, as ITV screened top-flight football most weeks and the BBC had the rights to the FA Cup that occupied other weekends.
With top flight football proving particularly lucrative, in 1992 the clubs of the Football League First Division voted to quit the league en masse and set up their own league, the Premier League. They eventually opted to agree a deal with Sky Sports rather than ITV or the BBC, meaning leading live top flight football was no longer available on terrestrial television. ITV continued to show second tier matches on a regional basis for a time and also later on its unsuccessful ITV Digital platform.
Fans watch an England international in HDTV in a cinema, 2006
Coverage of Premier League now dominates football on English television, especially in financial terms; the contracts agreed between the league and broadcasters BSkyB in 1992 and 1997 were worth Â£191.5m and Â£670m respectively. Sky were also able to show more live games than previously, with several games live on many mathchdays (originally Sundays and Mondays). However, the European Union objected to what it saw as a monopoly on television rights and demanded the 2007 contract be split into separate packages of 23 games; eventually Sky won four of the six available packages, with the other two were taken by Setanta Sports. Setanta went bankrupt in 2009 with its packages taken over by ESPN. From 2010/11, Sky have five packages and ESPN one. The top tier still has a presence on terrestrial television in highlights form on Match of the Day.
From the 2009/10 season, live coverage of the Football League returned to British terrestrial television for the first time since 2001 with the BBC securing 10 live Championship (second tier) games per season, as well as Football League highlights after Match of the Day. Sky also showed live lower league football while Setanta also showed large numbers of Conference games before the channels demise.
There is also extensive coverage of numerous Cup competitions. Every match in the Champions League (formerly European Cup) is available either on ITV or Sky Sports while ITV is also the primary broadcaster of the FA Cup with two live games per round while Sky and the BBC show the League Cup. Five, ITV and ESPN show the Europa League with even the Football League Trophy getting live television exposure on Sky Sports.