Facebook talks collaboration not competition ahead of Premier League rights auction
By Jonathan Rest
Dan Reed, head of global partnerships at Facebook, today all but ruled the social media giant out of the forthcoming auction for domestic rights to English soccer’s Premier League.
Instead Reed indicated that the platform, which has been building up its sports portfolio over the last year with content partnership deals with rights-holders and rights-owners, is more willing to team up with broadcasters in the new cycle.
The Premier League is expected to launch its tender for domestic rights for 2019-20 to 2021-22 before the end of this year, with market analysts expecting incumbents Sky and BT Sport, the pay-TV operators, to have to pay perhaps as much as a 30-per-cent increase on the £5.14 billion ($6.75 billion) in the present cycle to fight off the digital players, such as Facebook, Amazon and Google.
Manchester United executive vice-chairman Edward Woodward even name-dropped Amazon and Facebook in a recent discussion with shareholders over the next Premier League rights cycle, and the launch last month in USA of Watch, Facebook’s live video platform that it markets as a “great home for live sport,” has increased speculation that the company is ready to bid big for a package of rights.
Reed today attempted to play that down, despite the fact that Facebook recently stated its intentions to acquire exclusive live sport with an, ultimately unsuccessful, $600-million bid for digital rights to the Indian Premier League over five seasons.
Its model has tended to be to work with existing rights-holders, such as its agreement with US broadcaster Fox to stream some Uefa Champions League games this season.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Leaders Sports Business Summit in London, Reed said of Facebook’s intentions to compete in a Premier League rights auction: “It’s way too early to speculate on any scenario… on how we participate, or whether we even participate.”
The tender, however, will be sent out next month, and when pressed on the fact that potential rights-holders will have their business models drawn up by now, Reed replied: “Well, then, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.”
In an earlier presentation to Leaders delegates, Reed talked frequently of Facebook offering “collaborative, complementary” relationships to leagues and broadcasters.
He said: “Everyone is trying to figure out how to transition their business, broadcasters included, into a world where more and more time is being spent on digital, and we think we can help them.”
Asked whether a likely scenario, therefore, would be Facebook partnering with one of the victorious Premier League rights-holders to stream some games for free to a wider audience, he replied: “That is certainly an opportunity.”
Reed also hinted that Facebook, despite being a multi-billion-dollar organisation, was not of the mindset to pay big money for sports content.
Of the 3,500 sports broadcasts on Facebook in the first half of 2017, Reed said: “Only a small percentage were paid partnerships, like with Fox for Champions League or with MLB. The vast majority comes from broadcasters or rights holders who realise Facebook is a great place to distribute globally.”