The deal

The Bundeskartellamt, the German Federal Cartel Office, has dropped its ban on domestic media rights to the country’s top-tier men’s soccer league Bundesliga being sold exclusively to one buyer.

Last week, German soccer league body the DFL released details of its domestic media rights tender for the 2025-26 to 2028-29 cycle, which included its decision to scrap the ‘no single buyer’ rule, which has been in place for the last eight years.

The tender itself covered the Bundesliga, second-tier Bundesliga 2, and German Supercup competition across Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, East Belgium, and South Tyrol.

The rights lots will in total cover 617 matches per season, while there are also three audio rights packages on offer, as well as one covering ‘digital out of home.’

The rights auction is set to begin in mid-April, with broadcasters to receive the necessary tender documents in the middle of this month. A decision is then “expected to be made in the second quarter of 2024.”

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Why it matters

The no single-buyer rule has been applied in Germany since the 2016 Bundesliga domestic rights tender, to make the competition attractive to a range of different broadcasters by reducing the possibility of exclusivity.

That came on the back of a ruling by the European Competition Commission, which prohibits agreements aimed at preventing, restricting, or distorting competition, leading to the right being split across numerous broadcasters. Previously, the rule has also been applied for sporting tenders in markets such as the UK and Italy.

Under both competition laws, anti-competitive agreements can be exempted if the joint selling results in product improvement which benefits the consumer. This is why the Bundeskartellamt has now decided joint selling of the rights will benefit consumers through more choices, lower prices, and greater innovation going forward.

The Bundeskartellamt president Andreas Mundt said: “In recent years, the market for live coverage of football matches has become much more dynamic due to the activities of companies such as DAZN, RTL, and also Amazon. Most importantly, all providers now offer attractive internet-based broadcasting services as well.

“Encouraging competition for innovation in broadcasting the content was a particularly important goal of the no-single-buyer rule. This means that we can now accept DFL’s suggestion to waive the general rule that no single company may acquire the exclusive live broadcasting rights to Bundesliga matches in the upcoming auction.”

Conrad Wiacek, head of analysis and consulting at Sportcal (GlobalData Sport), said: “The DFL moving to a single buyer for its domestic broadcast rights gives an insight into the future direction of travel for sports media rights in Europe.

“For a long time, the EU Competition Commission ruling that media rights had to split across numerous broadcasters has increased the costs for sports fans, having to buy multiple subscriptions. Before streaming services developed and moved into sports rights, traditional broadcasters used sports rights as a means of driving audiences to their platforms.

“With packages split, no one broadcaster could show all games across a season, meaning a fragmented audience and ad revenues being challenged. As subscription costs to streaming services increased, customers began to scale back their investments, meaning that sports rights were no longer the guarantee they once were.

“For rights holders like the DFL, this means ultimately that premium prices are no longer certain, so it is essential that broadcast partners and rights holders work in tandem to deliver a premium fan experience, and having one place to watch all games makes cost-effective sense for fans, while also committing a broadcaster to tell the full story of a season or event.”

The details

There are several notable changes from the current 2021-22 to 2024-25 rights cycle, during which domestic live rights to Bundesliga action are shared between pay-TV giant Sky Deutschland, streaming heavyweight DAZN, ProSiebenSat.1, and Sport1. These deals are worth, in total, around €1.1 billion ($1.2bn) annually.

Firstly, one of the pay-TV packages now includes the rights to cover all individual Bundesliga games on Friday and Saturday – previously, this covered fixtures on Friday and Sunday.

The quartet of pay-TV packages covers the ‘Konferenz’ of the matches played at the same time on Saturday afternoons (package A), all individual games on Fridays and Saturday afternoons (package B), the premier match of each weekend on Saturday evening (package C), and the individual fixtures on Sunday (package D).

In addition, the successful bidders for the pay-TV rights will “have more opportunities to broadcast a certain number of matches on a free-to-air basis,” either through their platforms or in cooperation with other broadcasters and streaming services.

As well as this, new highlights rights packages have also been created, that can be used as early as Monday following the weekend’s action. One of these will focus on digital platforms, including the broadcasting of 90-second clips.

This is added onto the pay-TV rights for highlight clips following the final whistle from all matches, while the DFL has also said that there may be opportunities during the next cycle for social media clips to be posted during games.

The match timings, meanwhile, will stay almost entirely the same as during the current cycle, with the only minor change being a slight increase in the number of games taking place on Sunday at 7:30 pm.

The DFL has said in assessing the tender that it is “relying on a tried and trusted match schedule structure, while at the same time taking account of changes in media usage behavior through innovations in the rights packages.”

The body has added that it will regularly organize “special productions” with its chosen partners, including broadcasts specifically for children, and that its chosen partners will also have a specific innovation budget at their disposal.

In addition, “live productions in 9:16 format optimized for smartphones are also envisaged,” the league has stated.

In terms of the specific tender packages on offer, four of the live rights packages (which can now be sold to a single buyer, although this is not compulsory) are for pay-TV, two are technology-neutral covering the Bundesliga 2, and one is for free-to-air (FTA) rights to at least nine live games across the whole portfolio (from both leagues, the Supercup, and the post-season relegation playoffs).