It’s almost back! The Premier League returns on Saturday and football fans eager to catch as much of the action as they can, will be hit in the pocket, writes Robert McNamara
The summer of 2016 was a feast of football with every live game from the Euros beamed into your home without any cost to you, as long as you paid your TV licence fee, of course.
Club football is a little different.
TV companies have spent vast sums to acquire the rights to the Premier League and in order to recoup the money, subscription costs and the amount of channels you need to have to watch all the games have increased.
In short, watching the Premier League on Irish telly doesn’t come cheap.
Faced with a myriad of choices and package options, how do you get the most matches for your money?
Here, we break down when and where you can get your footy fix and how much it will cost you.
In Ireland, we have a choice between paid subscriptions and free-to-air television.
Sky TV, eir and Virgin Media offer monthly paid subscription services.
Saorview and free-to-air dishes offer free television, once you’ve paid your annual TV licence.
While you avoid monthly bills with free-to-air services, you won’t get any live Premier League games.
To watch the Premier League as it happens, you’ll have to pay for it.
Sky Sports will have 159 live matches this season, while BT Sport (under the eir Sport umbrella in Ireland) clock in at 42 games.
Sky have acquired the rights to Saturday 3pm kick offs (exclusively in the Republic of Ireland) and will also show Friday night games, Saturday morning kick-offs, ‘Super Sunday’ and ‘Monday Night Football’.
BT will broadcast Saturday evening and midweek games.
While Sky clearly has the edge in terms of the Premier League, BT hold the rights to the FA Cup and all Champions League and Europa League games.
In terms of other domestic soccer leagues, Sky has the ever popular Spanish La Liga and North American MLS.
They also show Football League games.
If you plan on becoming a hermit this season and hope to avoid interaction with the outside world, BT also televises the Scottish Premier League, the German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A and French Ligue 1.
It’s the big question. The more football you want, the more expensive your package is going to be.
Sky Sports is currently €37.50 extra on your bill, per month, for existing customers.
New Sky customers can currently get the Sky Sports package from €67 per month and that comes with a free 32-inch LG TV and a free Sky+ box.
You can also subscribe to eir Sport and BT Sport with a Sky box. An annual subscription which locks you in for 12 months costs €225 and a monthly (no contract) subscription will set you back €25 per month.
On eir TV
eir Sport is free to eir broadband users and this consists of four BT channels plus eir Sport 1 and 2.
How much you pay for your subscription depends on your broadband package, but the cheapest deal is currently €25 euro a month and the dearest €52 a month.
You can add Sky Sports to your bundle for an extra fee. It’s currently half-price for 12 months.
On Virgin Media
Virgin Media customers can get the full Sky Sports package for €40. HD will set you back €45.
As of 2016/17, Virgin Media customers cannot access BT or eir Sport.
“We can confirm that we will be dropping eir Sport,” a spokesperson confirmed.
“The content has been greatly reduced making the economics of offering the pack to our customers unsustainable. We have made every effort to agree commercial terms with eir Sports but, unfortunately, we were not successful,” they added.
If you have a HD ready television it makes sense to upgrade your sports channels for high definition viewing. The picture quality is so much better than normal television.
Beware, though, once you go HD, it’s hard to go back
The bad news is that HD is not standard for all service providers and will cost a bit extra per month. It’s best to speak to your customer service representative at the time of purchasing, as HD costs vary by provider.
While live Premier League costs money, Irish soccer fans with a free-to-air box can get the best Premier League highlights packages with ‘Match of the Day’ and the ‘Football League Show’ being broadcast most Saturday and Sunday nights throughout the season on BBC.
The Beeb also show some FA Cup games, including the final, live.
Saorview TV owners can enjoy a selection of Champions League soccer on TV3 and RTÉ.
While movies, TV series and games increasingly move off the traditional living room TV set and onto digital platforms, football has been slow to catch-up.
Wimbledon matches were broadcast on Periscope this summer, while in America, Thursday night NFL games are to be broadcast live on Twitter for the 2016 regular season.
Recently the Premier League announced a deal with Twitter allowing users in the UK and Ireland access to video clips of key moments and goals from all games broadcast by Sky in real time, via the @SkyFootball Twitter account.
David Gibbs, digital director of Sky Sports and Sky News said: “We’re delighted to be working with Twitter to bring in-game clips to football fans across the UK & Ireland as part of our biggest ever season of football.
“With more than 30 million users across a variety of platforms, Sky Sports is already the number one digital destination for sports in the UK. By expanding our partnership with Twitter, we can bring even more great action to an even bigger audience.”
If you’re thinking of streaming Premier League matches on your laptop or tablet, don’t bother. Streams are illegal and notoriously unreliable. Most will stall or disappear altogether right in the middle of a game.
A lot of websites offer live streaming in HD for a subscription cost but these are bogus operators who will ask you to download apps or software that are riddled with viruses.
The Premier League has gone to great lengths to stop a lot of these and it’s just not worth the time or effort to find a decent stream and. Even if you do find one, you can be sure it is not operating legitimately.
Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool all have their own channels which are available on Sky and Virgin Media.
They don’t show first team games live, but they do have delayed coverage which is usually available 24 hours after the game takes place.
However, the beauty of club channels is that they are cheap, partisan for fans of a certain persuasion and they also televise live reserve and youth team games - as well as first-team friendlies.
They provide in-depth, behind the scenes access that mainstream channels can’t.
If you’re a football junkie and wondering how you are going to pay for it all, ring your provider up and see what they are willing to do to retain your custom and they’re likely to transfer you to a member of their loyalty team.
If it’s merely English top flight football you’re after, Sky have a ‘Premier League pack' that promises every game on Sky Sports 1 and 5 and it’s a little bit cheaper than the full package.
However, you will lose Sky Sports 2, 3 and 4 with this deal so if you are interested in other sports, be careful you’re not missing out on other sports you might enjoy.
If the Premier League is a tad too expensive, you could always head to watch your local League of Ireland side in the flesh right up until the end of October.
A ticket is unlikely to set you back more than €15 with kids tickets costing much less and most clubs offering deals on family tickets.
League of Ireland grounds, for the most part, are family friendly and community-based environments that are a great way to watch live football at a low cost.
No subscription fees, no need for a HD ready telly and to top it off, you get some fresh air and the chance to meet like-minded people.
Whatever way you get your football buzz in 2016/17, enjoy the season.
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