As the great and the good of the sports broadcast industry descended on Monaco once again to lock horns in rights negotiations, conversations with grizzled veterans of the Grimaldi Forum escalators took on a different tone this year. Something was missing. The much-fêted buzz of the shop floor and juicy margins being made on premium properties was not so apparent.

The gaping hole left by the MP & Silva stand after the agency’s traumatic decline, and Lagardère Sports’ decision to spare the cost of being an exhibitor, were indicative of a sector in a state of flux. The plethora of Chinese exhibitors two years ago had been whittled down to zero. Amid the usual rush of meetings and a busy evening schedule – albeit shorn of one of its more lavish parties – agencies and rights-holders appeared in a mood for introspection.

Had the MP & Silva fall spooked the market? Perhaps not, given that it had been widely anticipated. But there are no signs of a start-up player jumping fully into the hole left by a company that once jostled for position with IMG and Infront. The heightened digital focus at the two agency behemoths has become increasingly apparent. Direct-to-consumer solutions (such as IMG’s Serie A Pass) are a means of self-protection against the volatility of the media rights trading business.

Even Javier Tebas had little to say on LaLiga rights sales projections  

This year’s paucity of high-profile rights announcements, pop-up press conferences or public initiations of sales processes was also somewhat a result of the seasonal nature of sports rights. TEAM Marketing is currently in between Champions League and Europa League sales cycles, the Bundesliga has no imminent deals to announce in major markets and the IOC has gone nearly nine months without announcing a direct broadcast deal, given long-term contracts already secured. Even Javier Tebas had little to say on LaLiga rights sales projections.

Of course the foundations for big ticket-broadcast deals were still being laid, while new properties such as SailGP were on show. DAZN is clearly the market player with the momentum (and financial backing), and further moves by the OTT subscription broadcaster are being put in place. The Premier League continues its international rights auction apace, including a healthy uplift recently secured in Germany, but even the all-conquering English top flight is feeling the pinch in some regions. 

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The event itself remains an invaluable part of the calendar and the usual stream of programming and production agreements will have been put in place  

Representatives of DDMC Fortis, the agency set up to sell the Asian Football Confederation rights, were engaged in back-to-back broadcaster meetings two floors down in the private rooms where the heftier deals are struck. The event itself remains an invaluable part of the calendar and the usual stream of programming and production agreements will have been put in place.

Nevertheless, there was a circumspection about rights sellers that I’ve never seen during 13 visits to the Principality. One major international federation told me of its plans to take back control of some markets from a top agency and bring more services in house. Agencies are certainly having to work harder for their share and constantly innovate in a digital-focused and consumer-centric environment. The biggest broadcast announcement of the week being Discovery’s unveiling of its global GolfTV OTT platform was further evidence of the reshaping of the market.

When we return in 2019, rights sellers might well have recovered their gusto, buoyed by increasing spend by digital giants. However, this year, more than ever, told us that continued re-invention is a must.