Maltese football commentary ‘imposed on GO by Premier League’

GO says that the Premier League forced them to broadcast 32 games with Maltese commentary this season, firm rejects users’ calls to be unsubscribed from sports contracts free of charge 

Last week’s 1-1 draw between Tottenham and Everton was the first EPL game to be broadcast on GO with Maltese commentary
Last week’s 1-1 draw between Tottenham and Everton was the first EPL game to be broadcast on GO with Maltese commentary

The Premier League has forced GO to broadcast some of its games in Maltese commentary, a spokesperson for the TV service provider has said. 

Following a barrage of public criticism on its Facebook page after last week’s game between Tottenham Hotspurs and Everton, GO said that the game’s commentary was in Maltese “as these are the conditions stipulated by the company’s standards”. However, a spokesperson for GO confirmed with MaltaToday that the standards in question referred to those imposed on GO by the broadcasting rights it had purchased from the Premier League. 

Indeed, he argued that GO was relatively fortunate in that it has been allowed to broadcast 168 Premier League games live with English commentary, due to the fact that English is one of Malta’s official languages. 

“Malta is, in fact, the only country outside the UK and Ireland, in which the Premier League has authorised live English language transmissions,” he said. 

However, he said that the Premier League was adamant that the 32 non-core live games allotted to GO in its package be broadcast in Maltese. GO was not given the option to broadcast the games with no commentary and only the crowd noise, as that would have easily allowed people to pirate the games using their own English commentary. 

The sudden change in broadcasting rights boils down to the European Court of Justice’s ruling in a case instigated by the Premier League against importers of decoder cards into the UK from other EU member states. The cards allowed English pubs to show live EPL football games on satellite TV on Saturday afternoons, thereby getting around the England footballing body’s 3pm “blackout rule”.

In place since the 1960s, the blackout bans UK broadcasters from showing matches on Saturday at 3pm, as a means of encouraging football fans to attend their teams’ matches. 

The EPL had demanded a blanket ban on foreign decoding devices in the UK, but the European Court of Justice met them halfway and instead ordered restrictions in the EPL’s contracts with EU broadcasters. As a result, EU licensees are no longer allowed to transmit more than one live Premier League game on Saturday afternoons. All games also have to broadcast the commentary in that country’s language, limiting the English language to the UK, Ireland, and partially Malta.


Which games will be broadcast in Maltese?

Following the ECJ’s ruling, the Premier League has offered a similar package to all European broadcasters, comprising all 380 games, out of which at least 200 will be transmitted live. The 200 games include 168 “core matches”, namely the 168 games broadcast by SKY and BT in the UK which will be selected by the Premier League itself as the season progresses.

In Malta’s case, all 168 of these games, which are likely to include the most important games at the top and bottom of the table, will be shown with English commentary. 

Each broadcaster has also been allowed to broadcast a further 32 live games of their choice; in Malta’s case, these games will be broadcast with Maltese commentary. These fixtures could either be on Saturdays at 4pm (CET) or additional Sunday matches or mid-week games.

So far, the games selected were yesterday’s game between Burnley and Liverpool and last week’s clash between Spurs and Everton.

GO has said that they will select these 32 games at their discretion to reflect the preference of their subscribers, meaning that they are likely to be taken up by the most popular teams on the island, such as Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal. 

The remaining 180 games will be delayed by two hours and will be broadcast on GO with English commentary. Given that European broadcasters are only allowed to broadcast one live game every Saturday afternoon, the lion’s share of these 160 delayed games will be those played within that time bracket.


Penalties for those who scrap their GO sports subscriptions

Following the unexpected change in broadcasting, GO was flooded by complaints on its Facebook page from angry users about the delayed games and the Maltese commentary for the Spurs-Everton game. Striking comments include those by Chris Grillo, who said that the commentators have “turned our entertainment into a funeral”, and Shaun Ungaro, who admitted that the commentary was so bad that he had to mute his TV.

Former Chamber of Advocates president Reuben Balzan wryly commented that GO’s “idea of entertainment seems to be giving their viewers the opportunity to count how many different variations of the same name the two muppets commenting can come up with”. 

Indeed, many users called on GO to allow them to unsubscribe from their contracts without incurring any fees. However, when asked by MaltaToday, GO’s spokesperson insisted that this will not be possible. 

“The GO Sports Package, among other high profile competition and events, includes exclusive rights to the Premier League, Serie A and the Champions League in Malta. GO, however, does not have any control over how and when the owners of these rights, namely the organisers of these competitions, choose to make content available. The terms and conditions of the package are clear that as long as these three competitions are available, a penalty will apply if a subscriber chooses to cancel the service.”

This means that people who unsubscribe from GO’s one year sports agreement (€19.99 a month) will be fined €50, while those who unsubscribe from its two-year deal (€16 a month) will be fined €100.

More in Football

Get access to the real stories first with the digital edition