What does the world of TV broadcast rights look like post-coronavirus pandemic?

Tom Morgan
·8-min read
Broadcasters Joleon Lescott and Steve McManaman work for BT Sport prior to the Premier League match between Manchester City and Brighton & Hove Albion - Laurence Griffiths /Getty Images Europe 
Broadcasters Joleon Lescott and Steve McManaman work for BT Sport prior to the Premier League match between Manchester City and Brighton & Hove Albion - Laurence Griffiths /Getty Images Europe

Sport and television are entering uncharted territory as cash-strapped competitions emerge from Covid-19 more desperate for broadcast money than ever before.

The peak of the boom years are over, with analysts describing the pandemic as an "accelerant" to a general downward trend in the amount traditional giants such as Sky and BT are willing to spend.

With the likes of DAZN and Amazon establishing themselves in a market planning for a post-pandemic landscape, here Telegraph Sport explores where the sands are shifting:

The Premier League

The auction for the next domestic rights sell off for the world's most lucrative competition will begin by May, later than expected amid uncertainty around Covid and European reform.

BT Sport and media rights experts Enders Analysis have both warned of deflation in the general rights market. Sky, although prioritising England's top tier as the one competition it cannot lose, has hinted at diverting more spending towards drama.

In Britain, the current deal is shared by Sky, BT and Amazon and worth £5billion over three years, and the next sell off is forecast to drop off at a marginally sharper rate than the Bundesliga, which saw a 5 per cent fall in its most recent deal.

Premier League broadcasting Rights
Premier League broadcasting Rights

DAZN - the so-called "Netflix of Sport" - is understood to be weighing a bid at a forthcoming auction, having already swooped for Premier League rights in Canada, Spain and Japan. However, an offer to challenge the overwhelming Sky hegemony, is said to be out of the question.

Enders say the "jam-packed" schedule of matches cited this week by Richard Masters, the top tier chief executive, has probably been exploited as much as possible in terms of package sell offs. Major rights reform would be required to stimulate serious interest among other digital superpowers. Facebook and Netflix have made it clear in previous sell offs that they are not seriously interested due to the impossibility to stream across regions.

European football

Broadcasters aimed a final nail in the coffin of the European Super League breakaway plot this week, as they dismissed the notion that it would generate billions more than the current status quo.

Barcelona and Real Madrid, having frittered away untold riches after record rights growth over the past decade, had been lobbying rivals for months over a £5billion JPMorgan-backed plan.

BT Sport hold exclusive UK broadcast rights to all UEFA competitions, including the Champions League - You Tube 
BT Sport hold exclusive UK broadcast rights to all UEFA competitions, including the Champions League - You Tube

BT Sport, which previously blew competition out of the water with a £1.2billion deal for the British domestic rights to Uefa competitions from 2021 to 2024, are the first major TV power-broker to say the maths do not stack up.

Instead, an expansion of the Champions League from 2024 appears inevitable - with the traditional broadcasters in prime position to benefit. The Premier League's 14 clubs outside the so-called "Big Six" say that they will oppose alterations which would see the competition expand to 36 clubs. Analysts suggest this may not be as lucrative as hoped, with BT unlikely to increase on its previous offer. With another 100 matches available, Uefa will almost certainly look to auction a Premier League-style offering, in selling off smaller packages to the likes of Amazon and DAZN.

Cricket

English Test cricket returned to free-to-air for the first time since the 2005 Ashes earlier this month, but analysts dismiss the suggestion that the broadcaster's bargain £5milllion marks a seismic shift.

Channel 4’s coverage of the India v England Test attracted a peak audience of 1.1 million, double that for Sky Sports’ coverage of the opening day of the previous Sri Lanka-England series. However, Sky Sports has international cricket on home soil sewn up for the foreseeable, and is the only potential contender with BT for live coverage of the Ashes in Australia.

Sky respond to Channel 4 Test defeat with white-ball win
Sky respond to Channel 4 Test defeat with white-ball win

Tender documents have been circulated by Cricket Australia for a package, currently held by BT, which includes Australia's other home internationals and the Big Bash League. Like football, cricket has tried to tempt the new platforms to the market, but Amazon are unlikely to make any offer for the Ashes as it continues to focus on its increasingly popular Premier League coverage. BT recently won the UK rights to broadcast New Zealand and West Indies domestic internationals, including England women's and men's tours respectively.

With Sky's deal with the ECB in place until 2024, Julian Aquilina, of Enders Analysis, says "there isn't really that much scope for the rights values within cricket to move that much over the next few years."

Rugby union

Compelling evidence that the big broadcasters are regaining their stranglehold emerged in December when BT were the benefactors of an apparent about-turn by Premiership Rugby.

England's top tier was forced to return to the marginally reduced offer on the current terms from the broadcaster after interest from Amazon apparently faded, despite its agreement for the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup internationals.

Much had been made of Amazon becoming a key player in domestic and international coverage under a potential pool agreement with CVC - the private equity firm - which recently secured an additional £300million investment deal in the Six Nations.

However, BT Sport, which became the senior broadcaster of Premiership Rugby in 2013-14, held its nerve to secure a deal marginally down on the current £40 million per year agreement. The entire package for three years is said to be worth £110 million, with BT airing up to 80 live matches - including 69 Premiership Rugby fixtures and 11 Premiership Rugby Cup ties - until 2024.

Power-brokers see the Six Nations as critical for driving fresh TV revenue, and much will depend on CVC's intentions for its 15 per cent stake, with many predicting a move away from free to air television.

BBC and ITV currently hold the rights in the United Kingdom in a deal worth around £50m which ends in 2021, but the competition does not fit within the Government’s “Crown Jewel” list of sporting events.

Formula 1

Rugby is keeping a close eye on the progress at F1, still largely shaped by prior commercial influence from CVC money. Before selling off their stake at a four-fold profit, investors expanded F1 far beyond its European heartland, establishing more races while charging a premium for hosting fees.

The main driver of revenue prior to the CVC sell off was increasing broadcasting rights with the sport going from free-to-air. Now, four years into its £6billion takeover by US group Liberty Media, F1 is also under further pressure to unlock more revenue due the pandemic.

Formula 1 are currently engaged in 'active' talks with Amazon over future broadcast deals - ANDREJ ISAKOVIC /AFP
Formula 1 are currently engaged in 'active' talks with Amazon over future broadcast deals - ANDREJ ISAKOVIC /AFP

Liberty Media was forced to inject almost £1bn into F1 in April, and, in recent months, has been making "incremental" efforts to appeal to a younger audience online. In Britain, TV rights are cushioned by the remainder of a three-year Sky deal worth £600million, but Chase Carey, F1’s outgoing chief executive, recently confirmed to the Financial Times that he was in "active" talks with Amazon.

Broadcast deals represent about a third of overall F1 revenues. Mehul Kapadia, chief operating officer of the Motorsport Network, recently acknowledged: “Now people want a 24/7 experience. The question is, how can you make your fans feel like they’re in the driver’s seat? That’s how the potential of the sport can be unlocked more.”

Olympics

In the 13 years since Grandstand was axed, never have the Olympic sports found it tougher to get a slice of the TV riches gorged on predominantly by football.

Last year, as talks broke down with the BBC, UK Athletics warned it may not be able to stage any Diamond League meetings in 2021 unless it agreed a new domestic media-rights deal.

Prior to the pandemic, British Olympics chiefs toyed with a host of innovative solutions. UK Sport and the British Olympic and Paralympic Association secured 2,600 hours of content across 26 sports so far for a new in-house over-the-top (OTT) broadcast platform.

Rowing, cycling, ice hockey, field hockey, canoeing, taekwondo and amateur boxing will all feature on a new streaming site so long as this summer's delayed Tokyo 2020 games go to plan.

The IOC is in charge of distributing £1billion-worth of global rights for the Games themselves, and has yet to diversify its offering to OTT this summer, but James Begley, chief executive of sports branding experts Pickstar, said marginalised Olympic sports will benefit as the model is modernised.

"The fragmentation of media markets, combined with the growing importance and influence of player power, which we've seen recently, is fuelling richer competition for rights and access," he said.