Sky and BT nab football rights, but Amazon will be back

Premier League rights went for cheap this year (sort of), as the tech giant bidding war failed to materialise.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 14 Feb 2018

Well that was an anti-climax. The much-anticipated entry of Amazon and Facebook into the Premier League football rights bidding war has failed to materialise. Current rights holders Sky and BT gobbled up the lion’s share, for a veritable bargain – ‘only’ £3.5bn for Sky and £885m for BT, compared to £4.1bn and £960m at the last auction three years ago.  

We should consider this prolongation of the status quo to be temporary, for while the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Netflix have yet to take a punt on football’s most profitable league, they almost certainly will soon.

Indeed some tech giants have already started to break into the sports broadcast market.

Facebook refused to rule itself out of the latest bidding war and has expressed a desire to add live sports to Zuckerberg’s ever expanding superpower; a failed £465m deal to buy rights to Cricket’s Indian Premier League in the Autumn is testament to this.

Twitter has had a deal in place with the Premier League since 2016, allowing it to show Premier League highlights and goals.

Alexa, put the football on

It is perhaps Amazon that represents the greatest long-term challenger. Jeff Bezos’s behemoth grows at between a quarter and a third a year and is making greater strides into the sports television sphere, reportedly spending $50m to broadcast 10 NFL games on its Prime video service, out of a TV and film content budget of $4.5bn.

Don’t expect it to go away either. If growth continues at its current rate, Amazon will be over four times larger than it is now by 2023, which would make it an $800bn revenue monster  that could easily outbid Sky and BT if it wanted to.

It would take a confident bettor to believe Amazon won’t want to pursue Premier League or indeed other live broadcasting rights, eventually.

Sky and BT have both shown that even they have a price. Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch told MT earlier this year that while sport was ‘at the beating heart’ of his business, there was a line he wouldn’t cross. ‘Occasionally we walk away. Increasingly we do that in the knowledge that sometimes we’ve got better choices elsewhere.’

BT chief exec Gavin Patterson echoed the comments in a Guardian interview before the auction, saying that BT ‘will be competitive but ultimately won’t go beyond the price it is worth to us’. It appears its plan B is the broadcast rights to the Champions League and Aviva Premiership Rugby games that it already holds.

For the time being, Sky has proved yet again that it is prepared to protect its assets through exorbitant spending (clearly £3.5bn doesn’t cross Darroch’s line); but it won’t be able to outbid the field forever.

With two packages still up for grabs, who’s to say we won’t yet see the very beginnings of a whole new bidding war.

Image credit: Pixinoo/Shutterstock

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