IMG and Perform unveil Conmebol JV and go to market with media rights
By Martin Ross
A joint venture set up by IMG, the international sports marketing agency, and Perform, the digital sports content and media group, to market rights to South America’s Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana has kicked off in earnest with the launch of a company identity and media rights sales in the region.
The wide-ranging JV project is to be known as ‘FC Diez Media’ and its first task will be to sell broadcast rights in the 10 member countries of Conmebol, the South American soccer confederation.
FC Diez Media is financed on a 50-50 basis by the two companies and, in addition to media rights sales and production procurement, is also providing overall consultancy, digital strategy, sponsorship and licensing advice for the Conmebol competitions, which also include the Conmebol Recopa, the annual contest between the Libertadores and Sudamericana winners.
IMG and Perform have opted to go to market first with the rights to the top-tier Copa Libertadores from 2019 to 2022, issuing an invitation to tender in Brazil and another covering the other nine South American countries.
The launch of FC Diez Media follows on from the swoop by IMG and Perform for broadcast and sponsorship rights to Conmebol’s club competitions in a four-year contract worth a minimum guarantee of $1.4 billion, or $350 million per season.
Perform’s Bruno Rocha has been named acting chief executive of FC Diez Media and, talking exclusively to Sportcal, identified USA as the key market outside South America in which the rights marketers have targeted a significantly improved deal.
FC Diez Media is launching the project with broadcast rights invitations to tender in Brazil and elsewhere in South America (with details to be provided on the websites of Conmebol and FC Diez Media).
Rights to the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana were previously sold together, but executives at IMG and Perform have opted to run separate sales processes for the two competitions, believing they have significant individual value.
Indeed, the second leg of last season’s Copa Sudamericana final between Brazil’s Flamengo and Argentina’s Independiente delivered record audience figures of 47 ratings points and a 66-per-cent share in Rio de Janeiro for Globo, the Brazilian commercial broadcaster.
By inviting offers initially for the flagship Copa Libertadores, FC Diez Media will be hoping that broadcasters who lose out will return with bumper bids for the Sudamericana rights, and, by issuing a separate tender process for Brazil, will forestall pan-regional broadcasters making single bids for the whole region.
The structure of the packages will also place reins on any sub-licensing of rights by broadcasters, a common practice across Latin America.
Fox Networks Group presently holds international broadcasting rights to the club competitions in a deal running until the end of the 2018 tournaments.
Rocha said: “We are delighted to have created a global media strategy and sponsorship group in FC Diez Media, and it is pleasing to see all the hard work put in by IMG and Perform paying off. We are excited to start working with CONMEBOL across a range of tournaments, starting with CONMEBOL Libertadores and look forward to helping the game continue to grow in the increasingly popular South American market.”
Felix Alvarez-Garmon, IMG Media’s senior vice-president in Latin America (and board member at FC Diez Media), added: “We are very much looking forward to innovating and evolving the commercial opportunities across the whole spectrum of CONMEBOL's club competitions. These range from game presentation and competition format to digital communication and rights segmentation. It’s an incredibly exciting project for the FC Diez Media team to be a part of.”
An invitation to tender for broadcast production is to be issued at the end of March, before FC Diez Media looks to kick off the sale of broadcast rights outside South America.
Conmebol specified during last year’s hotly-contested invitation to tender process that its appointed partner would provide consultancy services with regards to production, and not take on the host broadcast role itself. Therefore, FC Diez Media is tasked with defining a uniform minimum standard of production and ensuring the improved quality of the broadcast feed and graphics offered by the appointed production partner.
The production standard for South America’s club competitions has varied from game to game with Globo and Fox Sports, the rights-holder in the region, sometimes both delivering a production from the same match. While some fixtures in Brazil, for instance, have enjoyed a high standard of host broadcast, others in smaller South American countries (but broadcast back into Brazil and Argentina) have suffered from a comparatively low standard.
Along with Perform’s Rocha, the operational team at FC Diez Media includes the IMG trio of James Tree (as chief operating officer), Luis Rodriguez (as head of sponsorship) and Evandro Figueira (as head of broadcast). Perform’s Damian Smyth takes up the role of head of digital.
International push Following rights sales in South America, FC Diez Media will turn its attention to international markets, starting with ‘high-value’ markets for the competitions in countries where there is a large South American expatriate population such as USA, Portugal and Spain. Broadcasters in Italy and the Middle East and North Africa are also thought to have registered an interest in the rights.
FC Diez Media, which is to seek four-year rights agreements in most cases, has targeted USA in particular as a market where the rights value at present is not significant, but is in a favourable time zone and has large Hispanic and Latino populations.
Fanatiz, the OTT platform showing Latin American soccer, this week landed internet rights in US and Canada to the 2018 editions of the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana in a deal with MP & Silva, which picked up the rights from Fox.
Deriving sizeable value from rights deals in Europe will continue to be challenging, however, given the time zone factor (with most games kicking off after midnight CET).
Asked about the strategy to generate more value from international rights sales, Rocha replied: “We’re going to be in a position to maximise the opportunities in quite a few markets as the previous rights-holders or agencies that were selling the rights didn’t have the same focus that we have now.
“The industry is also changing and there are some markets where there are more opportunities to distribute the content to new entrants.”
Given that the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana are – outwith countries such as Portugal and Spain – not particularly well known to fans in Europe, IMG and Perform have been tasked with raising awareness of the competitions, including the creation of local language content for international audiences or using digital assets, such as Perform’s Goal.com portal, to push the content.
Rocha commented: “It’s a big part of what we were brought in to do as well. One effort that we’re making is redefining the brands of each competition with clear messaging.
“It’s about positioning the competitions for sponsors and fans to place emphasis on the key messages and what the competitions stand out for.”
Rocha pointed to the role of Goal Studios, Perform’s digital football agency, in developing promotional campaigns for the Uefa Europa League as evidence of the company’s work in that space.
Given the stress placed on direct-to-consumer OTT streaming services powered by Perform in its high-profile tie-ups with other rights-holders, notably tennis’ WTA and basketball’s FIBA, it could well be expected that FC Diez Media follows the same strategy in ‘dark markets’ or for games not being taken up by international broadcast partners.
However, no such service will be launching in the short term, according to Rocha.
He noted: “It’s part of the mid-term strategy. I wouldn’t put it as immediate as we want to understand the demands from international markets a little bit more. There are so many new entrants investing in their capabilities to distribute all the matches through different devices or across different platforms.
“We want to give them the chance to acquire all the rights and understand what kind of commitment they’re going to make to distribute the content. If we don’t get the commitment level that we’d expect to get, then I think we’ll look at more direct-to-consumer opportunities as you see some of the other international leagues doing.
“[Speaking] as a fan of a particular club in Brazil, I would be very interested in following a certain team and if I have the chance to watch every single game of that team then that’s the service I’d like.”
Sponsorship sales On the sponsorship front, IMG has been marketing rights for the 2017 and 2018 editions of the Copa Libertadores, and is set to assume the lead on sales from 2019 to 2022, although Perform will take an active involvement, according to Rocha.
He explained: “We operate in a full joint venture mode across all areas of the business. We always have people from Perform and IMG involved in all the areas to make sure the parties are comfortable with the strategy and with the course of action.
“Obviously given IMG had a relationship with CONMEBOL and experience in sponsorship, one of their guys [Luis Rodriguez] is driving the sponsorship efforts.
“However, there has been a lot of work on the Perform side on the digital piece and creating more assets for sponsors and trying to create a more comprehensive offering, not just thinking about a traditional sponsorship sales process where you sell billboards, hospitality and brand association.
“We’ve gone much further than that and created assets for social media, produced content for sponsors and enhanced that opportunity through our digital experience.”
IMG worked alongside Soccer United Marketing, the marketing arm of Major League Soccer, to sell the worldwide commercial rights to the 2016 Copa América Centenario, a special centenary edition of the national teams tournament.
Other competitions to be marketed by FC Diez Media include the women’s Copa Libertadores, the men’s and women’s futsal editions of the tournament, the Copa Libertadores beach soccer tournament and the under-20 Conmebol Libertadores.