The wager that tech titans like Amazon, Facebook and YouTube will soon successfully bid for the global rights to major live-sport events at the expense of leading TV broadcasters is on.
The idea of the Grand Slams and their equivalents in European soccer, American football, tennis, golf, basketball, baseball and motor racing migrating from TV to streaming platforms was unthinkable as recently as two years ago.
But the tech behemoths are earnestly testing the waters by acquiring small, manageable but significant packages in live sports, one of the most complex areas in the entertainment industry when it comes to rights deals.
E-commerce goliath Amazon, which has used new tech to tear apart and reconstruct the way we pay for books, TV, music and competitive video-gaming, has become the first digital conglomerate to nab some of the exclusive live-transmission rights to the highly coveted English Premier League (EPL) soccer (image above, current EPL champions, Manchester City).
At this stage, the number of live soccer matches on its Amazon Prime Video platform will be minuscule compared to the colossal crown jewels still available on traditional sports TV.
Industry experts are, however, predicting the tide could turn against the top-end sports broadcasters in five years’ time, in which case there would be no going back.
“Some of them are going to make an offer for global rights soon. It won’t happen tomorrow because many of the current broadcast-TV deals are five-year agreements,” states Ryan McCumber, founder/CEO of international consultancy Sports Tech.ai Advisors and co-founder of KPMG’s Sports Analytics World Series.
“But, for the next round, someone will ask for the global distribution rights, which is now possible because of the Internet. The only reason the rights are now fragmented is because traditional TV platforms are fragmented. So broadcasters better shape up for this new development.”
The value of live soccer
Amazon’s move for live EPL rights is a big deal. According to consultancy group Deloitte, Europe’s top five soccer leagues, including the EPL, amassed €14.7bn (US$17.15bn) in revenue during the 2016-2017 season, a 9% rise from the previous season. The EPL alone collected £4.5bn (US$5.97bn), about 86% more than Spain’s La Liga, the second-largest revenue earner among the five.
Until Amazon entered the fray, Rupert Murdoch’s Sky TV network and the IPTV-powered BT Sport, part of UK telecoms conglomerate BT Group, duopolized the UK’s domestic EPL rights.
But Amazon was prepared to pay a reported £90m (US$119.41m) to secure the live UK rights to 60 EPL matches during the three seasons starting in 2019.
For more about tech corporations going after sports rights, download TechMutiny Issue No.17