When TV Sports Markets asked Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore in June 2010 what had been the most important decision of his 11-year tenure, he didn’t hesitate: taking the League’s international media rights in-house in 2004, he said.
Scudamore was talking in the wake of the round of international rights sales for 2010-11 to 2012-13, in which revenues more than doubled to £1.45 billion. As the sales cycle for 2013-14 draws to a close with the last few deals in Europe, the decision continues to be vindicated spectacularly. Global revenues this time look set to far exceed that amount, continuing the sharp upward trend since the 2004-07 cycle.
It’s hard to imagine now that moving away from doing a global deal with a single sports rights agency, or small group of agencies, was seen as risky at the time. But Scudamore said of the switch: “It was a bold move at the time and extremely hard work to convince the market that we were serious, but we kept plugging away and created the fiercely competitive international landscape we have today with a range of broadcasters, telcos and agencies few would have imagined possible.”
Along the way, the League has busted a few myths, the largest of all that it was in the pocket of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Not only did the News-owned BSkyB see its stranglehold on live Premier League rights in the UK broken by the sale of live rights to newcomer BT Vision, but around the world News-owned subsidiaries lost out to hungrier players. Fox lost the rights in the US to NBCUniversal, ESPN Star Sports lost the rights in large parts of Asia to a combination of agencies and local broadcasters, and Sky Italia lost the rights in Italy to the Pitch International agency.
The League would argue that this shows the transparency and inherent fairness of the sales process. But there is another factor at play: the League’s international rights sales team, led by Paul Molnar, is ruthless in its determination to get the best deal for the clubs. If that means dumping long-standing partners who are low-balling, so be it.
In March last year, before the sales process got under way, Scudamore said: “Loyalty counts in many regards, but remember our current agreements are heavily regulated, our packages are put out into the open market and we have to have an open tender. Fundamentally, our packages have to be issued on the open market; they have to be sold to the highest compliant bidder. Ultimately, whatever umbilical cord there might be on an ongoing commercial basis (with a current partner), that gets severed once that invitation to tender gets issued.”
There have been some big percentage increases in value in emerging markets around the world, but the value of the rights in Europe is also set for a massive increase. This achievement has to be viewed in the light of the pessimism that followed the European Court of Justice ruling against the Premier League’s method of granting exclusive broadcast licences on an individual market basis. At the time, there was no shortage of experts ready to argue that the League would be forced to sell its rights on a pan-European basis and would lose a lot of money in the process.
But in the end there was no Copernican revolution, no paradigm shift. The League made a few tweaks to its exclusivity clauses and limited the number of 3pm live matches that European broadcasters could show by satellite but otherwise it was business as usual. And, as usual, business was good.
This is a personal perspective of Frank Dunne, editor of TV Sports Markets.