Moreover, for customers there’s even a faint hope that the days of £75 per month subscription fees may also be numbered.
The Premier League accepted a deal to ‘roll-over’ its existing UK rights deals with Sky, BT Sports and Amazon amidst the economic perils of the pandemic and a zeitgeist of football fan unrest.
Specifics of the deal terms remain confidential though media reports suggest the sums paid for the three-season batch of Premier League fixtures is broadly similar to the £5bn aggregate for the existing rights.
It is a break in the league’s lucrative tradition of auctioning off exclusive rights to the highest bidders, for ever increasing sums. Crucially, it secures the league’s visibility over tv revenues for what is likely to remain a volatile period. Not only that, but for the most part it does so with the financial status quo largely intact.
Given the economic circumstances and, particularly, that Premier League rights fees are the single biggest costs for Sky the ‘roll over’ might beg the question why the broadcasters didn’t opportunistically seek to squeeze a discount from the league.
The answer is most likely represented by the third name on the rights deal, Amazon.
Online streamers are lurking with intent.
Presently, Amazon has the smallest package of fixtures among the three though its intentions to build out its sports coverage is no secret.
Earlier this year it agreed to pay US$1bn a year for the exclusive rights to NFL’s Thursday Night Football, which is American football’s weekly prime-time spot in the schedule. Meanwhile, widespread reports suggest it is lining up a bumper deal to secure the rights to the Indian Premier League cricket which are available for the period starting in 2023.
Whilst Amazon is something of a known quantity another threat comes from DAZN, a streaming platform.
Those unfamiliar with DAZN could be forgiven for shrugging it off as merely an app start-up – and also for being confused about how its name might be pronounced (its said ‘Da Zone’ by the way) – but, it is backed by some very serious players.
DAZN is run by ESPN president John Skipper and is backed by Ukraine-born billionaire Sir Len Blavatnik (who is said to be Britain’s fourth richest man).
Blavatnik via his Access Industries vehicle amassed fortunes in natural resource and chemicals businesses.
Highlights from his CV, for example, include a 2003 deal with BP to sell stakes in previously privatised Russian oil assets which later become part of Rosneft, now Russia’s second largest company behind Gazprom. Access was also a stakeholder and a lever in the consolidation of companies that formed RUSAL, one of the world’s largest aluminium producers.
More recently, Blavatnik’s Access moved into media and digital technology companies with key investments in the likes of Snapchat, Square, Alibaba, Spotify and e-commerce app Zalondo. In sports media, via Perform Group and DAZN, it has run websites such as goal.com, sports data company Opta, and has had interests in digital rights management.
Long story short, the company has the resources and expertise to properly disrupt UK sports broadcasting.
It has already begun the erosion of Sky’s dominant position through its partnership, and escalating conflict of interest with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing.
The Anthony Joshua promoter has had DAZN as its broadcast partner in the US and international markets since a £780mln deal in 2018, and widespread reports in April claim a new ‘nine figure’ deal is in place that will see Matchroom Boxing exit its UK deal with Sky when it expires at the end of June.
DAZN was the exclusive broadcaster for the Canelo vs Billy Joe Saunders fight this past weekend, with UK customers able to subscribe for £1.99 per month. And given that the Anthony Joshua vs Tyson Fury ‘megafight’ is pencilled in for mid-August it is quite likely that most of the UK’s sports watching public will be far more familiar with DAZN in the coming months.
Getting back to football, DAZN is also believed to be among the company’s presently talking to BT Group about its sports broadcast division.
Earlier this month, BT confirmed press reports which claimed it could sell the business unit or alternatively ink an investment and partnership deal.
This line of thinking leaves is obvious why BT would be keen to secure their Premier League allocation, alongside its European football exclusives. Not least because it has also been separately speculated that DAZN would have bid aggressively for Premier League rights, had they gone to auction.
“Having a sale take place while the value of probably its key rights (the PL matches) is being debated would have brought uncertainty to the process,” analyst and market commentator Ian Whittaker said in a newsletter.
Noting the DAZN threat to Sky, he added: “there may have been concerns that a new auction would lead to aggressive competition from the likes of DAZN and / or Amazon, which could have seen Sky lose its rights. That, in turn, would not only impact potentially the domestic business but also the (very) high margin pubs and clubs’ revenues.”
Outside of a streaming deal there’s now also a more tangible possibility that the Premier League could cut everyone out with a ‘direct-to-consumer’ model which was speculated as the broadcast option favoured by the failed European Super League breakaway.
Evidently, the new three-year Premier League rights deal may have given the incumbent broadcasters a stay of execution, nevertheless, the status quo appears very much under threat.