English Premier League broadcast rights
The English Premier League got underway last week with packed grounds. (Photos: AFP)

On the heels of outstanding track and field performances from Jamaican athletes in Oregon (USA), Birmingham (United Kingdom), and Cali (Colombia), the nation was braced and ready for the kick-off of the English Premier League (EPL) season last week Friday (August 5). However, to the disappointment of many, viewing of the first weekend of the new season was only wishful thinking.

Neither of the main cable television providers – FLOW and Digicel – were able to display the desired content to their subscribers as their rights to offer same expired at the end of last season, in May of this year. Both telecommunications companies had previously offered the EPL on their joint venture sports channel, RUSH, from the 2019/20 to 2021/22 season but, for reasons still unknown to most, the rights for the broadcast of the world's most popular sporting league was acquired by Verticast Media Group (Verticast) for the 2022/23 to 2024/25 season.

The joint venture between FLOW and Digicel, based in St Lucia, was launched in July 2019 under the umbrella of Caribbean Premier Sports Limited (CPSL), and their combined reach brought the EPL content to most cable/IPTV subscribers across the Caribbean region. Verticast has reportedly finalised agreements with cable operators across almost every Caribbean country but, if their presence in Jamaica is anything to go by, it doesn't say much. It has been widely reported that the local signings include Hometime Cable and Cornwall Communications, which both operate in limited parishes (particularly in western Jamaica) and limited zones within those parishes, while Digicel's coverage has a wider reach (particularly in the most populated areas of Kingston, St Andrew, and St Catherine) and FLOW has been licensed by the Broadcasting Commission to operate islandwide.

Additionally, if reports are true, apart from the rights to broadcast the EPL in the Caribbean for the next three seasons, Verticast has also acquired the rights for the National Football League (NFL) – including the Super Bowl, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, EURO 2024 and EURO 2028 plus other European football competitions like the UEFA Nations League.

To Verticast's credit, in addition to their 'CSport' and 'CSport 2' cable channels that are presently available to the subscribers of more than 40 cable operators regionally, they launched their broadcast website (csport.tv) last week Thursday (August 4), just ahead of the EPL kick-off game between Arsenal and Crystal Palace the following day. The website offers the same programming as the cable channels – after a painless sign-up process – and Verticast has announced it availability free-of-cost until the end of August 2022.

For those who spent the better part of last Friday afternoon, then Saturday and Sunday morning glued to the screens of their smart TVs, tablets, and phones (apparently excluding iPhones), watching Vericasts's offerings via their browsers, the question now remains: What is going to happen come the end of August? Surely, a cost will be applied to this 'staple' after appetites have been whet with what the EPL has to offer this season? Not to mention the possibility of being the only place to watch the NFL, and worse yet, the World Cup, which kicks off in late November. These commercial questions will be answered in due time, but until then, a large sector of Jamaican cable subscribers – who are EPL fans – are holding on to what they can get while still searching for all other possibilities.

It has not been disclosed (publicly) how much Verticast paid for the rights to broadcast the EPL in the region, but it has been reported that the overseas broadcast partnerships will be worth more than the domestic rights deal for the first time. Expectedly, the international deals will rake in £5.3 billion (US$7.1 billion), up 30 per cent from last year, while domestic deals will be worth £5.1 billion (US$6.9 billion), with commercial partnerships taking the total to £10.5 billion (US$14.2 billion). Vericast's contribution to this hefty sum must be recovered from a market of 44 million people, spanning 26 countries, including Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic, and Barbados. One can only imagine that their offers to the telecom giants must have come with a substantial price tag.

As things stand, FLOW and Digicel cable subscribers will be sitting on the proverbial bench – at least for this season – while the other one-quarter (approximate) of Jamaican subscribers are actively engaged in the starting 11. If the buzz on social media (and the discourse on the streets) is anything to go by, some subscribers have been threatening to switch allegiance to other providers who broadcast the EPL content, especially with the view that the World Cup will be offered under the same dictate come November.

Needless to say, FLOW and Digicel will still offer viewing of other sports, including UEFA Champions League, Bundesliga, Diamond League, West Indies cricket, and new exclusive World Wrestling Entertainment content coming later this year, but that will do very little to satisfy the appetite for the EPL. Most Jamaican football fans have a favoured EPL team who they will passionately support through thick and thin, come hell or high water, win, lose or draw.

Speaking of which, the first weekend of the season provided all the usual thrills and spills the EPL has to offer – defending champions Manchester City, despite losing the services of Raheem Sterling (to Chelsea), Gabriel Jesus, and Oleksandr Zinchenko (to Arsenal), had a dominant 2-0 win over West Ham with their new signing Erling Haaland netting twice. Sergio Aguero, in 2011, was the last City player to score a brace on his league debut. In contrast, rivals Manchester United started the season with the same struggle they ended last season, losing at home 1-2 to Brighton and Hove Albion – same bus, different driver, same route.

Last season's runner-up, Liverpool, with Sadio Mane having departed to FC Bayern Munich, were fortunate to emerge with a 2-2 away draw against Fulham. New signing Darwin Nunez came off the bench to provide the needed bail out for the Reds, scoring once and assisting in their other goal. Tottenham Hotspur FC sent a clear message, beating Southampton 4-1 in a come-from-behind win, after trailing in the 12th minute – with Harry Kane and Son Heung-min not on the score sheet.

Arsenal and Chelsea both enjoyed opening weekend wins, beating Crystal Palace and Everton, respectively, in what is shaping up to be a very memorable season.

Viewing challenges aside, JustBet continues to offer attractive betting options on the EPL and all popular sports and events (including virtual games) as soon as they become available. Please visit one of the over 120 locations (or visit mobile.justbetja.com) for details and place your bets on the prediction of your choice for maximum winnings…… Get in the GAME!

Arsenal's English goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale makes a save during the English Premier League football match between Crystal Palace and Arsenal at Selhurst Park in south London on August 5, 2022.
BY MARK ARCHER

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