Broadcast and media rights in sport are now more complicated than ever before. Despite a major influx of millennials heading over to Netflix and Amazon for their television fix, sporting events are still incredibly popular – particularly here in the United Kingdom, on the other side of the Atlantic in the United States and right across Asia-Pacific.
Competitive sport is now a global billion-dollar industry and the close links between media, sponsors, television companies and sporting authorities all contribute to what is a growing and continually evolving market.
Traditionally broadcasters have brokered long term deals, paying for the rights to cover sporting events over a number of years, however this is no longer the case. Mega money contracts, many of which cover just one year or season and even specific viewing methods, devices types or connections (Wi-Fi, 4G, broadcast TV feed), are now very much the norm.
Even Amazon, renowned primarily for their video-on-demand content, have made the relatively straightforward decision to branch out into this sporting goldmine.
In a deal announced on 1st August 2017, Amazon will take ownership of the UK rights to all ATP World Tour tennis events, excluding Grand Slam tournaments, from 2018 – Sky Sports are the current broadcasters. According to reports, Amazon will pay approximately £10 million a year for these particular rights.
Over in the United States, social media channels have also been keen to test the water. Here, the most popular sport in terms of viewers is American football; the National Football League being, without a doubt, one of the standout competitions in world sport with fans from all over the globe tuning in to watch on a regular basis.
Prior to the 2016 season, social media giants Twitter announced that they had agreed a partnership to broadcast Thursday Night Football direct via their platform. Yet ahead of the 2017 campaign, Amazon revealed that they would be taking over from Twitter – the former agreeing a colossal deal worth around $50 million per year for the rights to Thursday Night Football. A considerable increase on the reported $10 million contract Twitter had been on.
At the end of the day, money talks – but so does reach. According to figures taken from TechCrunch, Twitter’s debut game attracted two million viewers; 48 million watched that same match on television.
In recent months, the Premier League has taken out a blocking order that has the potential to take the competition to the next level in terms of rights revenue. With a mass crackdown on illegal streaming, the desire to acquire the broadcast rights is now much greater, and Sky, currently paying upwards of £1.8 billion to stream England’s top flight, know just how important keeping hold of these rights is to their business.
Once again, it is Amazon who have emerged as the main rivals and Sky could be forced to pay an additional £600 million every year to keep hold of the lion’s share of Premier League fixtures.
But, looking at the long term, are these kinds of figures sustainable?
Perhaps surprisingly, I think the answer is “Yes”, but only for the biggest companies around. Although if a corporation like Sky might struggle to justify a £600 million price hike, then surely, it’s a sign that things are perhaps getting a little out of control.
In theory, the blocking order should be advantageous to Sky and other broadcasters, such as BT Sport, but it may also give Amazon the added incentive to price their rivals out of the market.
It could be a very expensive period for these international broadcasters. So far “the juice has been worth the squeeze”, but only time will tell what happens next in this increasingly disrupted marketplace.
MSA Focus & Alex McMahon
Alex is an independent writer, working in the field of broadcast, media & technology.