If you’ve been feeling somewhat cheated by the lack of live football this summer, you’re not alone.
Even years are traditionally tournament years, but the decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup resulted in a relatively barren close season.
The freewheeling, backheeling England women’s team has rightly captured the public’s imagination in recent days, while the domestic leagues resume normal service this weekend.
However, this is no ordinary league campaign.
As well as a lengthy late-autumn interruption for the first ever winter World Cup, this season starts earlier than usual, and will be covered by a variety of broadcasters.
As such, being able to watch live football involves a fair amount of research – and financial decision-making.
It was reported last week that 1.66 million video streaming subscriptions were cancelled in the second quarter of this year, mostly due to rising living costs.
If you’re considering joining the statistics for quarter three, read on…
While anyone not boycotting the World Cup can watch every air-conditioned kick on terrestrial TV, live league and cup football is rare on free-to-air channels nowadays.
The BBC retains partial FA Cup coverage rights, and Match of the Day remains a national institution for top-flight games and cup highlights.
Supporters of EFL clubs can watch regular highlights on ITV4, while Sportscene performs a similar role for Scottish football.
Pay TV coverage
Sky’s former monopoly on subscription football is slowly being loosened by competition, but it retains market dominance.
If you support an SPL team, you’ll be able to see 48 matches live on Sky this coming season.
Across the border, saturation Premier League coverage will see one Saturday game, two Sunday matches and Monday Night Football being broadcast most weeks.
EFL fans can watch live goals and games during the 11 rounds of midweek fixtures between now and next May, plus extensive weekend highlights and Friday night matches.
Meanwhile, BT Sport continues its expansion into pay football coverage.
It will broadcast 52 Premier League games this season, as well as being the exclusive broadcaster of Champions League/Europa League/Europa Conference matches.
Although it promised to make the 2022 Champions League Final free to view, most people missed out because coverage was restricted to those willing to download the BT Sport app.
If you subscribe to Sky or Virgin Media (which offers Sky’s content alongside BT Sport), proprietary apps allow access wherever and whenever you have a suitably fast connection.
Another option is NOW TV, which is effectively Sky without the satellite dish or annual subscription.
Its coverage has gradually expanded to encompass all 11 Sky Sports channels, in full HD. Monthly costs are high, but you can cancel at any time.
Amazon continues to dip its toes into the waters of live football broadcasting, without fully committing.
This year, it will again show two weeks’ worth of Premier League fixtures – one round on Boxing Day, the other across two evenings in mid-October.
Some clubs produce their own matchday coverage, and various streaming content (much of it live) is offered via club websites for those willing to sign up and pay up.
Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish internationals will soon migrate to a Scandinavian streaming platform called Viaplay, and Scottish Cup/League Cup matches will join them.
YouTube hosts a wealth of highlights content – some of it official (like the SPFL channel) and some of it decidedly third-party in origin, such as TikTok and Twitch streams.
Speaking of which…
What about unofficial coverage?
Because the restrictions on live football broadcasts between 3pm and 5pm on a Saturday don’t apply overseas, many fans use VPNs to access foreign coverage.
However, not only is this illegal in the UK, it’s also extremely variable in quality.
Some streams are several minutes behind, others are festooned with ads and chat windows, a few are loaded with malware, and some simply stop working when they’re taken offline mid-broadcast.
No matter how much you want to follow your team, official UK broadcasts or highlights services remain the only safe option.