VAR: Premier League watchers say it's still working badly, and making games less enjoyable to watch

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
October 03, 2023, 4:58 PM GMT+0

Desire to listen in on match officials’ discussions has risen in wake of VAR fail at Liverpool-Spurs

VAR is in the spotlight once again, video assistant referee officials failed to overturn an offside decision this weekend that saw a Liverpool goal disallowed during their match with Tottenham Hotspur. Liverpool would go on to lose the match 2-1.

Now new YouGov research – conducted following the Liverpool-Spurs game – shows that opinion of VAR remains negative.

Overall, 49% of frequent Premier League viewers say that VAR is working badly, compared to 38% who think it is working well, and 10% who think it is working neither well nor badly.

These figures are roughly the same as they were in our last survey on the subject, in August 2020, after the first full season had taken place under VAR.

While VAR chief Neil Swarbrick gave the system’s performance to date a 7/10 in November 2019, half way through the first season of its deployment, viewers at the time scored it 4/10 on average – a figure which remains unchanged.

Most regular Premier League watchers continue to say that VAR has made matches less enjoyable to watch, at 54% – although this is down from 62% in mid-2020. One in five now say the system has improved the viewing experience (22%, up from 15%), while another 22% feel it has made no difference.

Premier League viewers want to keep VAR, but make it better

Despite the negativity towards VAR, only 16% think it should be scrapped. There continues to be strong support for keeping the system in some form, with 79% of frequent viewers saying so, but this includes 67% who think the way it is used should change.

With Liverpool requesting audio of discussions between match officials from Sunday’s game, our survey finds there has been a notable increase in the number of Premier League watchers who think teams and the viewing public should be able to listen in on conversations between referees and video assistant referees. While 48% had “strongly” supported this in mid-2020, this has since risen to 61%. Overall support has risen from 77% to 84%, while opposition remains about the same, at 6% (from 7%).

The large majority continue to support being able to see the video footage the video assistant referees are being shown at the same time they are being shown it (86%), encouraging the on-field referee to consult pitch-side VAR screens (69%) and a time limit on how long it can take for decisions to be made using VAR (65%).

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