Premier League sells five UK rights packages to Sky and BT Sport; speculation on Amazon and the remainder

Sky and BT Sport remain the dominant rights holders in the battle to win UK Premier League rights, according to latest reports. The Premier League auction is still ongoing, with five out of the seven live broadcast rights packages now allocated, yet already there are suggestions that digital rivals Amazon, Google and Facebook could pick up one or both of the remaining packages.

However, the question is, do those online companies have the balls (football or otherwise) to create and then run the full production set up that would be required to monetise those packages, thus setting themselves up as rivals to the incumbents?

The story so far…

On what has been sold so far, Sky has won packages B, C, D, E. The broadcaster is set to pay £1,193 million per annum under the terms of the new deal, down £199 million per annum, a 16% cost reduction per game versus the current agreement. This will cover Sky for four packs of rights totalling 128 games a season, up from 126 matches currently.

The deal will offer Sky Sports viewers every first-pick weekend match, plus Saturday evening fixtures for the first time, all screened on Sky’s dedicated Premier League channel. In detail, that means between 2019/20 and 2021/22 Sky viewers can access: the biggest head to heads with every weekend ‘first pick’ and 14 ‘second picks’; slots including Saturday teatime matches, Super Sunday, Monday Night Football and Friday Night Football; and for the first time, Saturday evening matches at 7.45pm.

For the BBC, there must be questions about what the new Sky Saturday evening (7.45pm) match kick offs mean for Match of the Day, which airs at 10.30pm. However, Match of the Day has a loyal, lifelong fan base, so while it may lose out on some viewers, this is institutionalised viewing for many.

At the end of January, the Premier League announced that it had concluded the sale of its UK audiovisual highlights package, with BBC Sport acquiring the rights to broadcast highlights of all 380 Premier League in each of the three seasons from 2019/20 to 2021/22 at a cost of £211.5 million. Under the agreement BBC Sport will continue to broadcast its iconic Match of the Day show on Saturday nights, plus additional BBC programming that includes Match of the Day 2, Match of the Day Extra, MOTD Kickabout, Football Focus, Final Score and the Premier League Show.

Meanwhile, BT Sport has won rights to show live matches for a further three years from the 2019/20 season at a cost of £295 million per season for 32 games; also known as package A. BT Sport’s new rights deal takes it down from the 42 games it broadcasts now, and although its payments per season are also lower than the £320 million currently paid, it will be paying more per game than previously.

Arsenal 5-1 Everton, 3 February 2018 – Aaron Ramsey leaps in celebration after claiming his first hat-trick [Credit: Premier League]

BT will pay a deposit of £26.5 million this month, followed by six instalments of around £145 million starting in July 2019, payable every six months until December 2021. BT Sport will continue to show games at 5.30pm on Saturdays next season and then move to Saturday lunchtime fixtures at 12.30pm from August 2019.

Audience figures continue to grow on BT Sport, with average viewing up 23% year on year in the last quarter, its best performance since launch in August 2013, the company claimed.

The same cannot be said for Premier League coverage on Sky. In its most recent financial report, it noted that viewing for English Premier League football “remains at a lower level than two years ago”.

Advancing rivals 

So the rights sales are going well so far. The Premier League said in a statement Tuesday: “The value realised at this stage of the process is £4.464 billion, with two live packages still to be sold with interest from multiple bidders.” But who are those bidders?

Premier League executive chairman, Richard Scudamore, commented: “To have achieved this investment with two packages of live rights remaining to sell is an outcome that is testament to the excellent football competition delivered by the clubs. It provides them with certainty and will underpin their continued efforts to put on the most compelling football, invest sustainably in all areas, and use their popularity and reach to have a positive impact on the sport and beyond. We will now continue the sales process to deliver the best possible outcome for the remaining packages of rights in the UK and throughout the rest of the world.”

Moving onto discuss the possibilities here, while it is now obvious that Sky and BT Sport remain kings of the Premier League, perhaps BT Sport could have another dip into the goodie bag with two more packages still to be sold, upping its game against Sky.

However, there has been a lot of speculation over the last year about live broadcast newbies Amazon or Facebook, particularly the former, making a move on Premier League rights.

Last year, Amazon took the ATP Tour UK rights away from Sky, as well as winning the NFL’s Thursday Night Football streaming package for this season from Twitter and Facebook.

However, in making those deals Amazon simply had to take a production feed from those players and distribute it to its Prime audience, not doing what Sky Sports and BT Sports has done, which is setting up a full production operation from start to finish; rather a different financial and operational ball-game, pardon the pun.

Additionally, buying into UK Premier League rights themselves is an expensive investment; while Amazon can afford this, its distribution vehicle for Premier League matches, Prime, although global, would only be able to make the coverage available to UK viewers. Margins on Prime are good, but they are not the fat bundles offered by BT Sport and Sky, therefore it may be hard for the likes of Amazon to make a good enough profit on UK Premier League rights alone, especially as the remaining packages are the less exciting ones.

Will they or won’t they?

Ian Munford, Akamai’s director of product marketing, media solutions, commented to SVG Europe: “In terms of the remaining packages, whether Amazon does or does not bid in this round, clearly there is an interest from some of the global platforms to get good rights that will add value to their product.

“If you look at it from the audience, fan point of view, acquiring Premier League rights isn’t just about the rights,” warned Munford. “We have a fantastic product with the Premier League here in the UK. If you look at Sky and BT and how they have packaged those rights, it is a complete experience for fans and that’s what’s important, ranging from a very good narrative around the premiership matches, and also ancillary content. So acquiring rights is one thing; developing a very good experience for fans is another, and that takes experience, it takes money, and a combination of both in-studio and in-match technologies to make that happen.”

Said Richard Amos, CTO, Ostmodern: “It’s not surprising that Sky and BT remain major players in the Premier League rights race. Despite months of speculation on whether companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon would muscle their way in and win a number of packages, the internet giants remain in their infancy when it comes to penetrating the broad ecosystem that sports fans exist within.

“Streaming films and TV shows to consumers is largely possible within a closed ecosystem, but streaming sports is a very different proposition,” Amos continued. “Sports broadcasting is all about building a story by fostering continual engagement with fans, whether it’s through social media, fantasy football leagues, alternative commentary or team interviews, and tying this together to build a narrative. This is something the internet giants, who are competing to be a single destination for consumers, cannot easily provide with their current business models and sports platforms are aware of this limitation.”

Concluded Amos: “The pay TV broadcasters are safe for now, but that’s not to say they’ll be safe forever. As more and more viewers start to move away from cable packages, brand loyalty for traditional aggregators of TV will diminish over accessibility to content. Sky and BT are clearly mindful of this, agreeing a deal last year to sell their channels on each other’s platforms. But the threat of the non-traditional streaming giants undoubtedly still looms for both broadcasters.”

Munford added: “Football is benefitting from competition, in the sense that competition fuels innovation.”

Will the Premier League test the water to see if the likes of Amazon can add value to the remaining packages? We will have to wait and see.       

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