Tebas: There could be surprises in LaLiga rights contest
Javier Tebas, the president of Spanish soccer’s top-tier LaLiga, remains upbeat about the prospects in the forthcoming tender for domestic broadcasting rights, claiming that there will be bids from operators that have previously intimated that they would not take part.
The sales process for the rights from 2019-20 to 2021-22 is set to begin early next week, with the league sticking to a target of €1.3 billion ($1.51 billion) per year despite claims from Spanish telecoms companies, in particular, that the sport has become too expensive.
Tebas said that he has kept in contact with the likes of Telefónica, Vodafone and Orange.
At present Mediapro, the Spanish sports rights agency, together with its pay-TV partner BeIN Sports, and Movistar Plus, the satellite and IPTV pay-television service of Telefónica, hold the major live rights packages in Spain in three-year deals worth a total of €1.9 billion and €750 million, respectively.
All the matches are available across various telecoms platforms through carriage deals.
Speaking on the occasion of a meeting with Argentina’s new top-tier Superliga, with which LaLiga signed a memorandum of understanding last year, Tebas told Spanish newspaper Expansión that the issue of rights going forward has occupied him, particularly given the changes in the media landscape, with internet companies increasingly influential.
He said: “I’ve been up with this for a year, dreaming of it and sometimes having nightmares… and that makes you think.”
Telefónica, Vodafone and Orange have all expressed concerns at the increased cost of soccer rights and sub-licensing fees and Vodafone did not even submit a bid to rights-holder Mediapro to carry the channels showing the Uefa Champions League next season.
However, Tebas appears unconcerned, saying: “Possibly we will have surprises in the contest. Here it seems that no-one wants to bid and the major ones who speak so much [about that] will do.
“My obligation is to meet with everyone. I have maintained contacts with Telefónica, Vodafone, Orange, Mediapro, Facebook… Each one with a difference, because they are still thinking about what these contests were in the past, but that thought must be changed."
He added: “Television three years ago has nothing to do with today, then the penetration of Netflix in Spain was zero and today it is very high in the world of OTT.”
Tebas pointed out there are now 4 million smart TV devices “so the market is not the same, so the challenge of the auction is not the same.”
While he has played down the prospect of an internet company acquiring major live rights packages in the new tender, the LaLiga president expects the contest to show “a very different exhibition of football than we understand today, because minority things will become much more majority.”
On the target of €1.3 billion from the domestic rights sales, he said he has “full security” that revenues will meet “expectations, despite what they say out there.”
With a year to go until the start of the next contract period, LaLiga has other options, if the bids are lower than hoped, with a dedicated channel a possibility.
Tebas said the league had time to “work on strategies: you have to do a second contest or transform the most direct exploitation planned in the LaLiga contest… what you need to know is that what counts will be July 1, 2019, there is still much [to happen].”
LaLiga looks set to make amendments to the proposed tender after the CNMC, the country's competition regulator, ruled that the draft set of rules it received only "partially" complied with the Royal Decree of 2015 that reintroduced the collective selling of rights in Spanish soccer.
In particular, the watchdog called on LaLiga to scrap one of the lots in the tender on the grounds that it would allow a single operator to be awarded all of the pay-television rights.
Tebas has set a separate target of €1 billion per year from the sale of international rights from 2019 to 2022.