BeIN's Ekblad: Centralised Champions League rights key in growth of women's soccer
By Susan Lingeswaran
Uefa's plan to centralise broadcast rights to the Women's Champions League presents the next growth opportunity for women's soccer, according to Andrea Ekblad, acquisitions and sports content strategy manager for international pay-television operator BeIN Media Group.
At present, rights to the final are marketed by Uefa, while all other fixtures are sold by the respective clubs, meaning broadcasters have to negotiate for each game separately in the knock-out stages if they want full coverage.
To rectify the situation, Uefa last year announced a proposal to centralise all media rights from a new 16-team group stage onwards, starting with the 2021-22 season, with the governing body producing coverage of every match for television and digital platforms.
Ekblad believes this will make a fundamental difference as, under the current system, it is difficult for broadcasters to plan ahead and deliver consistent production of competition, especially when individual clubs do not have the resources to negotiate deals with separate broadcasters.
Speaking to Sportcal, she said: “Looking at the way the Uefa Champions League is sold to broadcasters at the moment, the rights are owned by the home team, and it means a broadcaster would need to negotiate every single game in a knock-out system, with very little planning time for scheduling, promotion and booking talent. Unfortunately, clubs have limited resources dealing with such requests and negotiations.
“To deliver that consistent coverage for women’s football, broadcasters will need to plan ahead in the same way they do for men’s competitions and form long-term partnerships. To plan for a standalone game versus a season, three seasons, or five seasons, makes a huge difference in terms of scheduling, signing and booking dedicated analysts, support programming and studios. This is all going to be crucial to plan ahead for several seasons and really invest in the rights.”
The level of potential is shown by the fact that last Sunday, top French club Olympique Lyonnais' 3-1 win over Germany's Wolfsburg in the final of this year's Women's Champions League attracted sizeable average audiences of 1.7 million in France and 880,000 in Germany.
The rights to the final of this year's tournament, held in San Sebastian in Spain, were picked up in France by Canal Plus, the pay-television operator, and W9, the M6-owned free-to-air digital terrestrial channel.
Other broadcasters that showed the final stages in Spain included Sport1 in Germany, BT Sport in the UK, Gol in Spain, Eleven Sports in Portugal, CBS in USA, ESPN in Brazil and BeIN in the MENA region.
Uefa also plans to centralise sponsorship rights for the Women's Champions League from the group stage onwards. Sponsorship rights to the final have previously been bundled with the rights to the men’s Champions League.
Ekblad believes centralising the media rights will be pivotal for women’s soccer as more broadcasters and brands will invest in the sport.
She said: “When it comes to the next growth opportunity for women’s football, the centralised broadcast rights to the WCL will be key. When it comes to the unbundling of the rights, broadcasters and importantly brands will also play a significant role in creating meaningful and long-term partnerships and helping to enhance the value of the competitions.
“What will be a crucial turning point for the next phase of the WCL in the 2021-22 season is the group stage. More fans and new fans will be engaged when you have the chance of seeing your favourite clubs and global brands playing each other across a longer and more regular period from October to May, rather than the current knock-out stage which only lasts two to three rounds across a couple of months from March to May.
“With the women’s game getting really competitive, and the chance to have more major fixtures between famous European clubs, we will see more investment in women’s teams.”
In 2017, Uefa took the decision to split the marketing of its men’s and women’s competitions and sell the commercial opportunities separately, appointing TRM Partners, the UK-based sponsorship agency, to oversee the new portfolio.
Uefa has this year secured new sponsorship deals with Hublot, the Swiss luxury watch brand, and, just last week, with soft drinks giant PepsiCo, under which both brands will be official partners of the 2021 Women’s European Championships in England, now in 2022, as well as main partners of the Women's Champions League.
There are now five standalone sponsors for women's soccer in Europe in Esprit, the global fashion brand, US sportswear giant Nike, and Visa, the worldwide credit card provider, as well as PepsiCo and Nike.
The commercial evolution of women’s sport one year on from the successes of the Fifa Women’s World Cup in France is analysed in the latest issue of Sportcal Insight, available here.