There had been murmurings that a new entrant could gatecrash this year’s Premier League TV rights bidding battle. But in the end it all came down to a clash between Britain’s big telcos Sky and BT, which are waging a war on multiple fronts.
Once the untarnished jewel in Sky’s crown, BT grabbed a share of the Premier League pie back in 2012. Last night we had the results of the latest bid, covering the 2016 to 2019 period, and the pair have been forced to pay the price of their bloodthirsty battle.
Richard Scudamore, the Premier League's chief executive, paused for a moment as he read out how much the rights went for, almost as though he couldn't believe his own luck. The whole package sold for a jaw-dropping £5.14bn, an increase of more than 70% on the previous auction, which was a pricey £3bn already.
Including international rights and the £204m the BBC has agreed to pay for highlights, the league is expected to net more than £8.5bn in total. Responses from the commentariat were mixed, with some calling on the Premier League to use the extra money to cut ticket prices. Clive Efford, the shadow sports minister, told the BBC it would be 'nothing short of criminal' if the extra money wasn't spent on improving things at the grassroots level.
Virgin Media, which had asked Ofcom to intervene in the sale, was predictably upset too. 'You can't blame the Premier League - they are simply exploiting the sales process,' its chief executive, Tom Mockridge, said. 'But this is hurting fans and does not warrant an exemption from normal competition law rules.
'There are other and better ways to structure the auction - selling more games gives more value for money and selling non-exclusively to broadcasters would take some of the heat out of auction process.'
Sky and BT will now be paying on average more than £10m per game – arguably reasonable for a Manchester derby, less so for a dull Stoke vs Leicester clash. Sky has retained the lion’s share of the rights, winning seven out of the nine packages on offer, although BT’s total number of games has increased from 38 to 42 of 168 the games per season. It will be paying £960m up from the £246m it pays at the moment. Sky will pay £4.176bn, a massive increase on the £2.3bn it paid last time aroun – for just an extra 10 matches per season.
The news brought mixed fortunes for the pair on the stock markets this morning - BT's share price jumped 3.16% to 457.82p, as investors rewarded BT for hanging on to a decent tranche of games. But already debt-laden Sky's shares dipped as much as 5% and were down 4% to 916p at 9am.
This bidding war was trailed as a battle between Sky and BT, but its looks like the real winner this time around is the Premier League.