Agencies poised as AFC sets out new timeline for rights tender
By Simon Ward
The Asian Football Confederation has ratified a decision to invite bids for its commercial rights from 2021 onwards by February 2018, with contracts to be awarded in May or June of next year.
The initial timeline for the tender process, which does not include the Middle East, has been rescheduled because of the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf region where several countries have cut ties with Qatar. It was originally due to be launched in the third quarter of this year.
At present, the AFC broadcasting and sponsorship distribution rights are held by the Lagardère Sports agency in a deal that runs until 2020.
The schedule for the award of contracts for the next cycle, which include competitions such as the Asian Cup and the Asian Champions League, was agreed at a meeting of the AFC executive committee in Bangkok on Tuesday.
In a statement, the AFC said it had been agreed that the confederation “will invite tenders for their Commercial Rights from 2021 onwards, with the exception of the Middle East, by February 2018. The original timeline for the tender process has been rescheduled because of the challenges presented by the current political situation in the Gulf region.
“The AFC Executive Committee will consider the awarding of the rights contracts at their meeting to be held in May or June 2018.”
The companies likely to be interested include prominent agencies such as Lagardère Sports, IMG and MP & Silva, plus Synergy Football, the Switzerland-based agency set up by Patrick Murphy, which is a partner of the CBF, the Brazilian soccer federation.
The auction will have an extra layer of intrigue after Seamus O’Brien, the former deputy chairman of the executive committee at Lagardère Sports, was recently appointed president and group chief executive of MP & Silva.
In a statement today, AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said: “The AFC will ensure that transparent and fair procedures are followed and that the views of the Member Associations are taken into consideration.”
The AFC has been working with Phil Lines, the former head of international rights sales at the Premier League, and Tom Liston, formerly of the Team Marketing agency, as it prepares the ground for the tender, and has been insisting that it will be "one of the largest sales of football rights" in its history, but also "extremely transparent."
In 2009, World Sport Group, the Singapore-based agency renamed as Lagardère Sports in 2015, renewed a broadcast and sponsorship rights distribution deal with the AFC.
The deal runs from 2013 to 2020, and is worth at least $1 billion to the confederation.
In 2015, the agency seemed poised to prolong its agreement with the AFC beyond 2020 without a tender, but no such deal was forthcoming.
Lagardère Sports has been the AFC’s exclusive commercial partner since 1993 and markets the AFC’s competitions, including: the Asian Cup; the AFC Champions League, the continent’s top clubs competition; the Asian qualifying rounds for the Fifa World Cup; and Asian final-round qualifying matches for the soccer competitions at the Olympic Games.
Like other industries in the region, Asian soccer has been impacted by the blockade of Qatar being enforced by countries including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt.
The blockading nations cut ties with Qatar in June accusing the small Gulf state of supporting terrorism and seeking close ties with Iran. Qatar vehemently denies the allegations.
Despite the dispute, the AFC said today that it will seek to maintain the home-and-away format for the AFC Champions League for clubs from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar in 2018.
The AFC executive committee agreed that the relevant member associations should negotiate with their respective governments to secure special permission for clubs to travel between the respective countries.
It also backed the decision of the AFC to send a high-level delegation to the nations involved to try and mediate the situation with the concerned member associations and governments to ensure affected matches can go ahead.
The blockade has already cast doubts over the Gulf Cup, which is due to take place in Qatar from 22 December to 8 January, as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have all withdrawn.
It also threatens to disrupt preparations for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar although the AFC said yesterday it was happy with the progress made on new stadia and infrastructure for the first edition of the global showpiece to be held in the Middle East.
Attendees at the AFC executive committee meeting included Gianni Infantino, the president of Fifa, and Theodore Theodoridis, the general secretary of Uefa, who gave a presentation on the Global Nations League, a proposed evolution of the Uefa Nations League competition that is launching in late-2018, with members to conduct further discussion on the project.
Image courtesy of AFC