How the Premier League has changed since its inception
It’s been over 30 years since Sky Television transformed the game as we know it today. Soccer has always been immensely popular and is by far the most popular game in England and Europe.
The Premier League provides the breeding ground for many immensely gifted players to stake their claim for international selection, and billions of people tuned in to watch them play in the World Cup Final at the end of 2022.
It’s not just the Premier League that has changed immeasurably over the last few decades – other sporting leagues have seen their brands reshaped and sold as new products.
Today, we will examine how the Premier League has transformed over this period and whether it has been for better or worse.
The beginning of the Premier League
Sky sold a substantial package to bring more live soccer games to audiences nationwide. The money involved in obtaining the broadcasting rights for a league that is now the most watched in the world is astonishing.
It’s not just the Premier League and the teams that compete within it that have benefitted from this colossal cash injection. Companies that operate alongside the Premier League, such as bookmaker sites, provide various live and outright markets in England’s Premier soccer tier.
Back in 1990, Sky put together a team of presenters, commentators, graphic designers, and directors to spearhead the juggernaut that would fuel enormous profits, which it still does today. Rupert Murdoch may not have realized just how much money would be involved in this league.
However, one thing he didn’t underestimate is the fact that English sports fans will watch any soccer, regardless of the moral and ethical questions that swirl around the huge sums of money changing hands in the sector.
The boom of the economy in the 1990s and early 2000s
Favorable market conditions ensured that more people could afford to pay top dollar for the latest sports packages from Sky. They had monopolized English soccer to such a point that they were solely benefitting from the substantial audiences paying to watch it.
Although a handful of TV channels attempted to break this trend, they fell short and many have since gone bankrupt.
More people could afford televisions in the United Kingdom as the Labour government of the time presided over one of the most significant economic growth spurts in the history of the British economy.
This created a snowball effect and more clubs were given more significant sums for appearing in the Premier League.
This resulted in bigger clubs receiving more prominent sponsors who were willing to pay even more money, as their products were being broadcast to the homes of millions of UK consumers for 90 minutes straight.
More disposable income meant that more people could afford Sky, and the bottom line was that more people could afford to watch the games, and the size and scope of the brand continued to expand.
Clubs then used this money to attract the worldwide international talent that currently plays in all of the top teams in the country.
Multiple transfer records were broken due to the money pouring in from the colossal Sky corporation, including the sum Newcastle paid for Alan Shearer, and the world-record transfer fee for a defender that Man Utd paid for Rio Ferdinand back in 2003.
Herein lies the most significant change we have seen in this period. During the 1980s and 1990s, soccer teams would primarily feature professionals from a particular country. This isn’t unique to England; Spain would predominantly feature Spanish players, Italy would feature Italian players, etc.
However, given that so much money is now involved in the English game, the best players from all these countries look to the Premier League to receive some of the outrageous wages that players in the league can earn.
The Premier League signifies the shift from a local, working-class English game to a sport that is now more of a billionaire’s fantasy soccer than the social glue it used to be when it would bring English communities together before the age of Sky television – which takes us nicely into our next section.
Style of play
You will often see ex-players who played in the English top-flight back in the 1980s and 1990s voice concern about how soft the game has become and how little players can handle in terms of aggression.
Especially during the 1980s, players would play on soaked, waterlogged pitches, often going full throttle into dangerous tackles, and attributes such as skill and flair were not highly sought after.
Nowadays, this has completely turned on its head. Many fans, especially international fans, watch the English Premier League because it is a far more skilled and finely-tuned package than the rugged tough-tackling seasons of the past.
Spain, Italy, and Germany have all followed suit, and referees now allow a lot more protection across the board to ensure that players can express themselves on the soccer pitch rather than be on the receiving end of a nasty challenge.
As this has happened across the international game, it wouldn’t be right to highlight the Premier League for this change. However, the English game has undoubtedly seen the most significant switch across the board.
Before Sky took over, several teams were promoted from the lower leagues and challenged for the title. But, thanks to Sky and some dubious owners, the success that teams have been allowed to buy has resulted in a monopoly of teams at the top.
Excluding the one-off seasons for Leicester City, Blackburn Rovers, and most recently, the Jurgen Klopp-inspired Liverpool team, only five teams have won the Premier League in over 30 years. This is not a sign of healthy competition.
Arsenal appears to have fumbled again this season to allow another club with obscene wealth that makes up a large part of this monopoly to lift yet another title.
Even if Newcastle breaks the monopoly of the handful of teams who have won the league, it’ll be another example of a smaller club coming into an enormous sum of money. But, if we’re going to be honest, it has ripped the heart out of the game.
Sky may soon see some of its grasp loosen as the soccer world continues to revolve and evolve. With the cost of living crisis, many people can no longer afford to tune in to the games on television and opt to watch the highlights of a game on YouTube or via other means.
Surely the rivers of money that flow into the game can’t go on forever? The numbers involved are staggering and the combined wealth of the league’s owners runs into the hundreds of billions.
So, if the Sky bubble bursts and people stop watching the Premier League and choose to tune in to other soccer leagues, it could be another colossal pivot or retraction for a game we remember from long ago.
However, the likelihood is that the league will continue to expand from strength to strength – with viewing figures not slowing down and more owners entering the league with even more money than previous generations.
The Premier League brand remains very much the sporting powerhouse that Rupert Murdoch would have envisaged nearly 35 years ago.