Amazon aims to build on exclusive UK tennis portfolio
By Jonathan Rest at the Leaders Sport Business Summit
Amazon, the online retail giant, has told tennis rights-holders in the UK that it will bid aggressively for exclusive grand slam media rights following its inaugural streaming of the US Open this month.
Amazon holds UK rights to the US Open until 2022 in a five-year deal worth £30 million ($39.55 million), having replaced Eurosport.
The Discovery-owned pan-European broadcaster holds exclusive rights to the Australian Open across Europe until 2021, the same year as UK commercial broadcaster ITV’s deal for the French Open expires, and Alex Green, European managing director, Amazon Prime Video, indicated that both properties will be targets for the acquisitive firm.
Speaking on the opening day of the Leaders in Sport conference in London today, Green said: “We are in it [tennis] for the long haul, certainly for the UK. We’ll see about tennis elsewhere. But it’s a global sport, and that’s why it is important to us.
“Sports rights are typically sold territory by territory, so we have to analyse if we can get them at the right price. But certainly it is a long-term play in the UK. We love it as a sport. Tennis can really break out to a broader demographic appeal, which some sports cannot do. A new talented crop of British players will help grow the audience.”
Amazon spared no expense with its coverage of this year’s US Open, setting up its own studio at Flushing Meadows in New York and drafting in a several former players as analysts, but it was inundated with complaints about picture and sound quality of its streaming service and an inability to record or rewind matches during the early rounds of the tournament.
Green admitted there had been challenges with the broadcast, but insisted it had been a success.
He said: “Yes it was a challenge. It was the first major exclusive event for us, and overall we were pleased. The live coverage went well, the audience numbers were strong. We open ourselves up to customer feedback - that is in Amazon’s DNA - both good and bad. So we increased the number of live courts, and the number of replays we were offering.
“We’ll take all the learnings and apply it next year.”
From 2019, Amazon will hold UK rights to the men's top-tier ATP World Tour Masters 1000, second-tier ATP World Tour 500 events and the end-of-season ATP World Tour Finals in London in a deal worth up to £10 million per year, having outbid incumbent Sky, the pay-TV operator.
Globally it holds streaming rights to the Laver Cup, the international men’s team competition between Europe and the rest of the world.
The Wimbledon broadcast picture is more complicated by the fact the grass court tournament is a listed event in the UK, meaning it cannot be shown exclusively live by pay-TV channels.
The BBC, the public-service broadcaster, holds Wimbledon rights until 2024, but there continue to be calls for a review of the so-called ‘crown jewels’.
Speaking on the sidelines of Leaders, Mick Desmond, commercial and media director of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, commented on the prospect of partnering with the likes of Amazon in the UK, saying: “You can never say never. The BBC is such a valued media partner and they also have their own streaming. They’re very much a part of our brand.
“A review [of the Crown Jewels] doesn’t bother us. We will make decisions based on our brand. It’s not about money, it’s about reach and fan engagement. We take decisions based on getting as many people watching, at the same time as having high production values.”
He continued: “Amazon are open enough to say they are in a learning process. We have been talking to Amazon for two years, not just about live rights, but what we may well do with our other content. They are going to be an enormous player, and they are here for the long term. They are a $1-trillion business that can buy production capability and talent. We are in a disruptive phase in media.”
Green said the learnings from the US Open streaming will be taken into Amazon's debut coverage of English soccer’s Premier League next year.
Amazon has secured rights to 20 matches per season played across two rounds, one of which will be 26 December, 2019, Boxing Day.
Subscribers to Amazon Prime Video will not have to pay extra to access the Premier League matches, Green confirmed.
He added: “We know the power of the Premier League. We have a lot of resource at Amazon. It doesn’t mean we always get things right, but we’ll put a lot of resource in to it and we’ll get the coverage and production right. We are aware of the scale of this.”