The Premier League has its eye on BT and BSkyB’s billions, with a plan to move the lucrative auction of football broadcasting rights forward by up to six months.
The move was put on the table in private meetings between the Premier League and the pay-TV giants, in a move that sources close to the talks said smacked of ‘opportunism’, according to the Telegraph.
With the BT Sport channel launched in August 2013 to take on BSkyB’s dominance of the live match market, the Premier League’s plan looks like taking advantage of the rivals’ fierce fight for football fans’ cash.
BT and BSkyB paid over £3bn between them in 2012 for the rights to broadcast live Premier League matches, up a staggering 70% on the 2009 auction. Analysts had expected the next auction to go for £3.6bn, according to the Telegraph.
In November, BT won the exclusive rights to show the Champions League and UEFA Europea League for three years. The £897m deal, more than double the £400m BSkyB and ITV are currently paying, sent BSkyB’s shares plummeting as much as 10% in a day.
The market looks set to continue bubbling – Deloitte estimates that the value of premium sports broadcasting rights will rise 14% to £16bn this year, up from average growth of 5% between 2009 and 2013.
‘If [BT] bid strongly for the key domestic games they stand a chance of becoming the nation's default football channel – a prospect that should terrify Sky into bidding high themselves,’ Gary Parkinson, editor of FourFourTwo.com said.
The Premier League, sniffing blood in the pay-TV battle, has suggested moving the auction for the three seasons starting in 2016-17 to as early as December this year, instead of June 2015, after the end of the next football season.
‘The Premier League are simply playing the bidders off against each other, just as a football club might if two teams were interested in a star striker,’ Parkinson said. ‘BT are in full tanks-on-lawn mode, and the Premier League want to take advantage of that.’
However, the Premier League has argued that, far from licking its lips at the cash broadcasters are throwing at football, it is merely returning to the previous timetable of an 18-month gap between rights auctions and the start of new deals, the Telegraph said.
The 2009 auction was held at the start of the year, while the 2012 round was pushed back to June. The delay was blamed on the David-over-Goliath victory of a Portsmouth landlady, whose conviction for showing Premier League live matches via a Greek satellite decoder instead of Sky was overturned by the High Court in 2012.
Whatever the Premier League’s true reasons, it would be a victory for them to get the auction out of the way before the broadcasting bubble bursts.