Uefa's Epstein: Champions League rights sales show 'live is not dead'
By Simon Ward at Global Sports Week in Paris
Positive results to date from the sale of media rights to the Uefa Champions League in the next cycle show that live sport is becoming increasingly important for broadcasters that rely on a subscription model, according to Uefa marketing director Guy-Laurent Epstein.
In recent years, there has been persistent debate about a potential fall in the value of soccer rights as viewing habits change and the market apparently approaches saturation point.
However, Epstein claims the opposite is true, pointing to the high level of competition for rights to the Champions League, including in France and Germany, in the 2021-22 to 2023-24 seasons.
He said that Uefa was “very satisfied” with proceeds so far and has high hopes for the new sales process in Spain and a forthcoming contest in the Nordic region.
With the growth of OTT entertainment services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, the latter of which has also broken into the live soccer sphere, Epstein claims that top-level sport now has a unique cachet for broadcasters with a business model based on subscriptions.
Speaking to Sportcal in a media roundtable at the Global Sports Week conference in Paris today, Epstein said: “Obviously live is not dead. For broadcasters… it [sport] is the only thing left that brings people together at the same time to connect and to subscribe to a service because all the entertainment has gone non-linear, and you don’t care when you watch it. There is no timing for that.
“Live sport has become very important, even more important than in the past, for broadcasters. That’s broadcasters in the wider sense, they could be telcos, digital platforms, now they’re [more like] media companies, to keep subscribers and to increase their subscription base.
“That’s why there is big competition for those [Champions League] rights hence the good results we have had so far. They come from the quality of the competition, which is very high, and the quality of the brand, but also from the competitive landscape in a given market, and people are fighting for those rights.”
In France, pay-television broadcasters BeIN Sports and Canal Plus, and commercial network TF1 (which will show the final live) won the rights for the next cycle, in deals worth a reported €375 million ($411 million) per year, displacing Altice, the telecoms firm, which is currently paying around €350 million for both the Champions League and second-tier Europa League.
There was also a competitive Champions League auction in Germany where long-time rights-holder Sky Deutschland was outbid, as new entrant Amazon, OTT platform DAZN and public-service broadcaster ZDF (final only) prevailed.
At present, the live rights are shared by Sky and DAZN in three-year deals worth around €185 million per year, and the 2021-22 season will be the first time in 20 years that Europe’s premier competition does not appear on Sky.
There was no change in the UK where BT Sport won the exclusive rights to the Champions League, Europa League and new Europa Conference League from 2021-22 to 2023-24, but, contrary to earlier expectations, the price held up, with the pay-television operator to shell out £400 million ($517 million) per year.
Asked about the prospects for other major territories such as Spain and Italy, Epstein said: “Each market is different. We’ll have to see when we tackle them. We just launched in Spain, and we are very hopeful to have a great result there, but time will tell.”
In Spain, Uefa and its agency partner Team Marketing have set a deadline of 10am (CET) on 10 March for bids to be received, with concurrent sales processes for the elite Champions League, Super Cup and Youth League, and for the Europa League and Europa Conference League, for the next three-year cycle.
Mediapro, the Spanish media rights and production agency, and its pay-TV partner in the country BeIN Sports acquired live rights to the Champions League and Europa League from 2018-19 in a three-year, €1.05-billion deal.
They subsequently sold the rights onto telecoms giant Telefónica for €360 million per season, with games shown on the Movistar pay-TV channel, albeit Mediapro does still broadcast a limited number of Europa League games on its free-to-air channel Gol.
Elsewhere, Uefa will have been buoyed by the lucrative deal announced this week between England’s Premier League and regional giant Nordic Entertainment Group, which runs for six years starting in 2022-23, and adds Norway to a footprint that currently includes Denmark, Sweden and Finland.
Epstein said: “We are opening Scandinavia shortly, the market is very dynamic. It’s very positive.”
Agreements are also already in place for the next cycle in USA, Austria and Switzerland, but a contract in Russia has yet to be finalised.
Uefa and Team recently went to market in the Balkans and Malta.
Uefa has virtually concluded media rights sales for this year’s European Championships, which, in a unique departure, will take place across 12 countries, and sponsorship is “almost done,” according to Epstein.
The eight top-tier official sponsors of Euro 2020 are Alipay, Booking.com, Coca-Cola, FedEx, Hisense, Socar, Takeaway.com and Volkswagen.
Asked if staging the competition across so many territories had presented difficulties in terms of sponsorship sales, Epstein said: “What is more complex for the implementation is the brands had to put their heads around how to build a team to lead their projects because usually, say in France, they would appoint a team in France, Coca-Cola France and there would be team leaders for the tournament.
“Here, they were a bit puzzled at the beginning, saying, ‘how do we build an implementation team for this tournament? On the other hand, they see the benefit that rather than touching one country to activate massively, they have 12 countries where the activation will be strong.”
Euro 2020 runs from 12 June to 12 July, culminating with the semi-finals and final at Wembley Stadium in London.