Premier League offers 200 live games as UK rights tender goes live
By Martin Ross
A total of 200 live matches per season split into seven different packages are available in the Premier League’s highly-anticipated UK domestic broadcast rights invitation to tender, which was sent out to interested broadcasters last night.
The number of live games is up from the 168 per season currently shared by rival pay-TV broadcasters Sky and BT Sport, and will allow the winners of the rights to show full rounds of Premier League fixtures for the first time, along with Saturday evening games.
A separate invitation to tender has also been issued for the free-to-air highlights rights, a contract currently held by the BBC, the public-service broadcaster, in a deal worth £68 million ($91.6 million) per season.
Stakeholders signed off the tender documents earlier this week and the Premier League is looking to seal new domestic rights contracts by the end of February, with another increase targeted given the additional 32 live games on offer, including some full match weeks for the first time.
The new rights cycle runs from 2019-20 to 2021-22.
At present, Sky shows 126 live games per season and BT Sport 42 games per season in deals worth a total of £5.14 billion over three years that expire at the end of next season.
Live rights have been split up into seven packages (the same number as during the last rights auction), including five packages of 32 games and two packages of 20 games.
Package C (see table below) includes the rights to broadcast eight games per season live at 7.45pm on Saturdays, allowing the Premier League to go up against Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor for the first time in the scramble for viewers during the primetime slot.
All games from rival top European leagues are currently shown live on domestic television, and the English top-flight has now made a small move in that direction by allowing all games during four match weeks to be aired live in the UK.
The match weeks in question are during three midweek slots and on a Bank Holiday, given that a blackout rule prevents live coverage of Saturday games between 2.45pm and 5.15pm.
The Premier League said today: “This creates an attractive offering for broadcasters and fans, while allowing the continued protection of the Saturday 15:00 "closed period" – the purpose of which is to encourage attendances and participation at all levels of the sport at the traditional time at which English football takes place across the country.”
A ‘no single buyer’ rule also remains in place, preventing bidders from landing more than 148 games per season.
|Premier League live rights packages 2019-20 to 2021-22|
|Package A||32 matches: Saturdays at 12.30pm|
|Package B||32 matches: Saturdays at 5.30pm|
24 matches: Sundays at 2pm
8 matches: Saturdays at 7.45pm
|Package D||32 matches: Sundays at 4.30pm|
24 matches: Mondays at 8pm or Fridays 7.30pm to 8pm
8 matches: Sundays at 2pm
|Package F||20 matches: All 10 games from one Bank Holiday and all 10 matches from one midweek slot|
|Package G||20 matches: All games from two midweek programmes|
In November, clubs from England’s top-tier rubber-stamped plans to ensure that at least half of the 380 games per season would be broadcast live in the UK in future.
The commitment from the league came after an investigation by Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, over how the broadcast rights are sold.
The Premier League had been weighing up whether to offer 190, 200 or 210 live games in the next cycle.
During the last tender, which concluded in February 2015 and covers the seasons from 2016-17 to 2018-19, Sky dug deep to secure five of the packages on offer, amounting to 126 games per season, with bids adding up to £4.18 billion, while BT Sport landed the other two, comprising 42 matches per season, with offers totalling £960 million.
There have been plenty of column inches filled about the prospect of digital giants such as Amazon or Facebook offering stiff competition for the rights this time around.
Amazon recently made its move in the UK rights marketplace with deals for ATP Tour and US Open tennis rights, while Facebook unsuccessfully bid $600 million for Indian Premier League rights and is currently on the hunt for an executive to head up its sports rights acquisitions.
However, the prospects of either landing the main packages and displacing Sky or BT appear slim.
Speaking in September, Simon Green, the head of BT Sport, cast doubts over whether the market’s emerging players would seriously compete given uncertainty over how such weighty investments could be monetised.
He said: “What’s Amazon’s business model? Is it to sell tennis rackets on the back of showing it? Over a five- or 10-year span, I don’t see those brands competing in the sports rights buying market in the way ourselves and other established broadcasters are.”
An Ofcom probe was initiated after Virgin Media, the UK pay-TV operator (which carries the Sky Sports and BT Sport channels), complained that, under the previous contracts, little more than 40 per cent of the Premier League matches each season could be shown live in the UK, and that this had fuelled high inflation in the cost of the rights, plus distribution costs that have to be passed on to its customers.
Meanwhile, the Premier League will market its near-live rights from 2019-20 to 2021-22 “at a later date.”
Those rights encompass:
• Near-live long-form rights to 180 non-live matches per season, for linear and on-demand exploitation.
• Internet clips rights to all 380 matches per season.
• The Live packages will be available for exploitation on a technology-neutral basis.
In November 2015, Sky followed up its £4.18-billion live rights agreement by landing the near-live rights (from 2016-17 to 2018-19), and entered an exclusive distribution partnership with News UK, the newspaper publishing group.
Steve Nuttall, the pay-TV sport pioneer who worked for Sky and was subsequently a senior director at YouTube, discussed the details of the Premier League packages in a Sportcal Insight column, available to read here.