Premier League kicks off rights process

football-kasperThe English Premier League has issued Invitations to Tender (ITT) for its UK audiovisual broadcasting rights for seasons 2016/17 to 2018/19 which include a package that will see live coverage of Friday night football for the first time since the League’s inception in 1992.

It has made available to interested parties two separate ITTs inviting bids for:

  • Live broadcasting rights to a total of 168 matches – split into seven packages.

  • A Free-to-Air highlights package.

The Live rights consist of five packages of 28 matches and two packages of 14 matches. No single buyer will be allowed to acquire more than 126 matches.

According to the Premier League, this creates an attractive offering for broadcasters and fans; whilst allowing the continued protection of the Saturday 3pm ‘closed period’ – the purpose of which is to encourage attendances and participation at all levels of the sport at the traditional time at which English football takes place across the country.

A separate sales process will take place later for two other packages. They are:

  • A ‘Near Live’ long form package containing 212 matches, for linear and on-demand exploitation

  • An Internet-based Clips package for all matches

Both the Live and Near Live packages will be available for exploitation on a technology-neutral basis.

The Premier League’s live audiovisual broadcasting rights are sold in separate packages for a three-year term. The process is monitored by an independent trustee and no single buyer will be permitted to purchase rights to more than 126 of the 168 matches available for live broadcast.

Those conditions stem from an agreement with the European Commission, for the auction processes for Premier League live audiovisual rights for 2007/08 to 2009/10 and 2010/11 to 2012/13, which was put in place in order to ensure compliance with relevant competition law.

In the last auction process, incorporating seasons 2013/14 to 2015/16, 154 matches were made available for live UK broadcast split into seven packages. Sky won five of the packages (116 matches) and BT two packages (38 matches). The seven packages were sold for a total of £3.018 billion, with analysts forecasts suggesting that the price will increase by one-third.

The Saturday 3pm ‘closed period’ is an agreement whereby football leagues and associations do not televise matches at the traditional time football is played in their country in order to protect attendance and participation at all levels of the game. It is compatible with both UK and EU law and detailed in UEFA Article 48.

The 168 live matches represent 14 more than are currently shown, meaning that 44 per cent of all Premier League games will be available live.

Current rights holders Sky and BT Sport set to bid again, with beIN Sports – a rumoured bidder for the 2010/11 to 2012/13 rights likely to enter the fray.

Commercial pubcaster ITV is expected to challenge the BBC – which has held the rights since 2004 – for the highlights package. However, some UK pres is reporting a deal has already been tied up with Viacom’s Channel 5 and it will show highlights at 9pm on Saturday evenings starting in 2015.

The bidding process for the highlights and the live rights is expected to be completed within the next four months with a decision announced in March 2025.

The ITT has been issued despite comms regulator Ofcom – at the request of quad-play operator Virgin Media – opening a formal investigation under the Competition Act 1998 into the way the Premier League sells live UK television rights to its games.

Virgin Media considers that significant consumer harm resulting from escalating rights costs can be addressed by targeted changes to the way in which live rights are sold, while preserving the benefits of joint selling.

League chiefs decided not to delay the ITT, possibly because the Ofcom investigation could take up to two years. The increase in the number of live games could be a move towards satisfying Ofcom concerns.

Brigitte Trafford, Virgin Media’s chief corporate affairs officer, said the “slightly restructured auction” simply highlighted how few of the Premier League’s games would be available on live TV. “It doesn’t change the fact that UK fans will continue to pay the most for the least amount of football in Europe,” she claimed.

Tom Mockridge, Chief Executive of Virgin Media, has said that it would not bid.

Speaking at the FT Digital Media Conference in London in March 2015, David Zaslav, President and CEO of Discovery Communications, said that the broadcaster would consider acquiring premium sports rights such as the Premier League. “We have a real advantage keeping the costs of second level sports manageable. The question is do we go up a level. In some cases taking a big swing might make sense to do in a joint bidding. In some cases might make sense to leave bigger high end sports to big broadcasters. We’ll just have to see,” he added.

BT currently has Saturday lunchtime rights and is likely to seek higher-profile slots, but its ability to outbid Sky for such packages may be constrained following its securing of Champions League games from next season and its like;y acquisition of a mobile business to round out its own quad-play offering.

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