By David Murray
After all the hype around Amazon bidding aggressively for live English Premier League (EPL) football rights, in normal circumstances, the announcement last week that it had secured a package of 20 live games could have been viewed as anti-climactic.
However, nothing to do with Amazon can be taken as routine.
The news that one of the biggest companies in the world, with a current market capitalisation of US$820 billion, has bought into the biggest international sports rights property is potentially groundbreaking.
Putting things into perspective, Sky and BT have committed over £4.5billion in rights fees to secure three years of EPL live rights from 2019/22. This is down on the £5.1 billion raised by the last cycle, as Sky took the opportunity of reduced competition from BT to reduce the amount per game that it paid from around £11m to £9m, having increased it by 80 per cent last time around. BT, conversely slightly increased what it paid.
For this tender, the EPL had created two new packages for 20 games representing all the matches from two match days. This meant the majority of the game would be simulcast with best estimates suggesting four separate scheduling windows for each match week, effectively offering eight unique live windows per package.
Following the live broadcast tender in February, the EPL withheld awarding these two new packages as they had failed to reach their reserve price.
It has taken a further four months to reach agreement with BT to take one of these packages, and Amazon for the other. BT is reported to have paid £90m for its package over three years, the amount paid by Amazon was undisclosed which would suggest it could have been less. The Amazon press release also indicates it secured a weekly highlights programme, which is likely to be subject to a significant holdback (at least 48 hours), unless it is replacing the near live package which does not seem to have been sold. This highlights programme will help give it a narrative across the whole season offering a degree of context to its 2-week live package.
A picture of Amazon’s sports strategy is beginning to emerge in the UK.
Its initial foray into the ATP and US Open tennis rights represents relatively low value investments, where there appeared good synergy with its target audience for selling goods in brown boxes, with the potential for cross selling high value tennis merchandise. The EPL package gives it the 10 matches over the boxing day match day window, tying in very nicely with its Christmas and Boxing Day sale (the other match day is potentially over a bank holiday). The football will, therefore, bring in more Amazon Prime subscriptions at perhaps its most important time of the year. Even if paying the same as BT (£30m p.a.), it is paying only 50-100 per cent more than the total cost of the two tennis contracts, in return for what is effectively Christmas promotional ‘gold dust’.
Does this mean that Amazon is now a serious player in the UK sports rights market place?
This deal probably brings it level with Channel 4 and ahead of Channel 5, but some way behind the BBC, ITV and Eurosport, and the chasm behind Sky and BT. It is now dipping a foot in the water (whereas the tennis was a toe).
I suspect that it will continue to pick up sport where it both represents value and aligns with its Amazon Prime target demographic. The success of this strategy, and the appetite by BT for more sport following the sacking of its CEO last week, will dictate how aggressively it pursues the EPL in three years’ time.
David Murray is co-founder of the sports rights consultancy Fozmuz Limited; lectures in negotiation at Salford and Liverpool Universities, UK; offers negotiation and influencing coaching through The Better People Organisation; and is a Sports Rights and Consultant for the UK Law Firm Shoosmiths