Heavyweight UK pay-TV broadcaster Sky Sports has taken a major step towards retaining domestic media rights to English soccer’s second-tier English Football League (EFL).

The network has held live EFL rights since 2002 and was yesterday (April 3) announced as the preferred bidder by the organizing body, for the cycle from 2024-25 onwards.

Sky and the EFL now have a month in which to exclusively negotiate, with the EFL having initially issued a request for proposals in October 2022.

It told interested parties at that point that it was willing to make the entire match inventory per season from three leagues (the Championship, League One, and League Two), the EFL Cup, and the EFL Trophy – 1,891 fixtures in total – available.

The official domestic EFL media rights tender was launched in late February, with a deadline of March 22 for bids to be submitted.

In a statement yesterday, the EFL said: “The EFL has now completed a full and comprehensive review of the multiple submissions received as part of its broadcast rights sales process from 2024 onwards.

“The league will now enter into an exclusive month-long negotiating period with the preferred bidder, Sky Sports.”

In recent months, reports had suggested that the relationship between Sky and the EFL was set to come to an end at the conclusion of the present cycle, which began in 2019-20.

The current deal runs through the end of 2023-24 and is understood to be worth £595 million (now $739.3 million) in total.

The EFL was said to be open to dealing with other major broadcasters such as global subscription streaming service DAZN, and European media heavyweight Viaplay.

Sky only broadcasts in the region of 5% of EFL action every season, 138 games this campaign, with some clubs from the third-tier League One and fourth-tier League Two not seeing their clubs live once during any given campaign.

Many teams in the UK’s soccer pyramid believe the number of live, televised fixtures should be substantially higher.

When launching the tender process, the EFL said it was “seeking to evolve its rights offering for this latest cycle to provide additional revenues for EFL clubs alongside embracing innovation and reflecting changing audience habits.”

In late March, it was revealed that DAZN submitted a bid to show every game from the EFL live over the course of the next cycle, a move that would likely have signaled the end of the UK’s controversial 3PM Saturday blackout for televised sport.

The rule, which many feel is outdated given the evolution of the sports broadcasting landscape, is utilized by the English Football Association under Article 48 of the European body UEFA’s statutes that allow member nations to select a two-and-a-half-hour weekend slot where live soccer is banned from TV channels.

In the UK, games cannot be shown between 2:45PM and 5:15PM. The rule was temporarily halted during Covid-19 as fans were prohibited from attending games in person.

DAZN, which is headquartered in the UK, does not hold any soccer rights in the territory but is keen to bring on board a key property in order to build out its offering and subscriber base in the market.

Sky, meanwhile, has live domestic soccer at the heart of its TV offering in the UK, also holding joint live rights to the top-tier Premier League alongside rivals BT Sport and Amazon.

That set of rights extends through the end of 2024-25 after an extension to the previous deal was sealed in May 2021.

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