December saw Amazon Prime Video’s first venture into the Premier League. Having acquired 20 live games over three seasons from 2019-2022, and consequently showing two matchdays over December 2019, Amazon disrupted the natural order of football in the UK. Amazon’s recent history in the sports market had shown that this was high-stakes. Their 2018 US Open tennis coverage was notoriously fraught with issues and heavily criticised. The Premier League is a step up – it’s a cultural institution and of unique importance as the most popular domestic league of the world’s most popular sport. Premier League fans, so used to high level service from Sky Sports and BT Sport, would not accept any disruption to their festive football fare. It was crucial for Amazon to get things right. So how did they get on?
To quote the sports writer Jonathan Liew, “Amazon Prime Video’s first foray into live Premier League football felt like the softest of soft launches: the same teams, the same players, the same presenters, the same commentators [as Sky Sports and BT Sport coverage], with just a little added buffering”. You can initially read that as another failure – but we see it differently. Given the context and previous experience with the US Open, a solid and efficient outing was the most sensible and strategically astute move Amazon could have made. Rather than trying to do too much they ‘did the basics right’. Amazon needed to prove that they could deliver the fundamentals and establish their credentials in the sports broadcasting arena. Anything other than this may have done irreparable damage to trust in their ability to handle such significant sporting institutions.
On these terms, Prime Video’s Premier League offering can be considered a great success. Yes there were some mixed responses by viewers, including some grumbles about delayed streams, and occasional buffering; but there was a great deal of praise too. Many of their innovations worked and offered real value: particularly the potential to watch every match in a matchday week for the first time ever. Amazon’s own reaction demonstrated their satisfaction with a job well done, “We’re delighted that millions of football fans enjoyed watching Amazon’s first ever round of Premier League matches on Prime Video,” said Alex Green, managing director of Prime Video Sport Europe. “We are thrilled and humbled by the positive response”.
Amazon showed that they can provide a quality viewing experience for the biggest of sports. In doing so, and supported by a back catalogue of sports content on Prime Video, they’ve established their credentials as serious contenders in global sport broadcasting. So what can we expect from Amazon’s sports offerings in the future?
Firstly, they’ll want to double-down on their Premier League success as they have two more years of showing the December fixtures. They’ve shown they could deliver the essentials, but what more can they bring to the table to better the football viewing experience? People will expect more from the tech giant next time around.
More widely, Amazon will likely be turning their eyes to what they could bring to other sports leagues around the globe. With the NBA in the US and European domestic football TV rights up for grabs in the coming years – and buoyed by their recent exploits with the Premier League – it is quite easy to imagine them being a more permanent fixture in one or more of the biggest sports leagues. They got the tone right with the Premier League, but each sport has its own unique culture and rituals. These will need to be understood and catered for if they want to engage effectively and keep people on side.
They managed it for the first time, and there’s no reason why they can’t replicate that success again. The traditional players will be looking on intently.
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