Are Consumers Losing Out From the Latest Premier League Rights Deal?

Photo of Alistair Taylor
by Alistair Taylor

Following the landmark rights deal that saw the English Premier League (EPL) sell domestic rights to the tech major Amazon, the sports landscape has fundamentally changed.

For the first time the EPL has sold domestic digital rights, allowing for matches to be live streamed on Amazon Prime. It is a testament to another large organisation realising the change in consumer viewing behaviours, with less people watching live sports on TV in the UK, down to 35.6% in Q1 2018 (MIDIA research Consumer Survey).

Has the EPL cashed in at the expense of the consumer?

Although Amazon has not released the amount it paid for the rights—package which the EPL could not sell in February, fans are not pleased with the cost implications it will impose, having to watch every game across the three subscription platforms. In order to get access to all 184 games, one will need a Sky Sports package, BT Sports Package and now an Amazon Prime membership, which in full would cost over £860 per year.

This is a large figure to watch EPL games, but it is worth noting that this total is only £79 (cost of annual subscription to Amazon Prime) more a year than during the previous rights deal. Another argument against this increased cost to fans is that we know Package F (which Amazon won,) is for the Boxing Day fixtures and another set of mid-week fixtures in December. Therefore, one could simply trial Amazon free for 30 days without incurring any additional cost. Moreover, each team has 38 matches per season, and watching all 184 games would not be possible as some games kick-off at the same time on match-days, so the likelihood of watching every game is unlikely, regardless of whether one has the access to do so.

The rights total is down on the previous deal (although we do not know what Amazon spent), with the other packages accruing the EPL £4.55 billion for the three seasons 2019–2022, 13.2% less than the previous rights bundle. Richard Scudamore, the former Premier League Executive Chairman, during his tenure oversaw EPL rights increasing from £670 million in 1999 to £4.6 billion in 2018, a 403% increase in Constant Currency (adjusted for inflation).

The EPL initially hoped that inviting a digital entrant would spark a bidding war for the rights packages, however two packages went unsold. The way the EPL bundled these two packages (F & G), was not appealing to traditional broadcasters which work on a monthly subscription model, but offered a low risk opportunity for Amazon, which hopes to gain an increased viewership during a crucial Christmas period for the e-commerce giant.

The EPL may have opened up the rights to a digital platform having seen the numbers for the NBA, the most followed league on Twitter. Streaming figures for the NBA finals showed a glimpse of how streaming is grabbing the viewers' attention from traditional linear TV, with the first two games of the 2018 NBA Finals seeing a 21% jump in streaming compared with 2017. There was also a significant increase in ‘Game 2’ streaming from the regions where the two competing teams were based.

The EPL has effectively accepted a lower bid with the hope that changing the distribution landscape (streaming the matches online) will capture the fans of the future, streaming the matches online.

Sky Sports still remains dominant in the market, showing 61% of all games for the next three seasons (down from 75% in the previous deal). However the entry of this digital powerhouse shows the balance is shifting and with the emergence of major players in the SVOD space, this is a sign of what is to come for the sporting rights landscape and the consumer.

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