June 7, 2018Published by: Kieran Moriarty

Will Amazon’s Premier League rights deal change the face of football viewing in UK?

For the first time in the Premier League’s 26-year history, British television broadcasters’ monopoly of domestic football TV rights has been broken. Today’s acquisition of a Premier League TV rights package by online retailer and tech behemoth, Amazon, is being seen as a watershed moment for the way in which football – and potentially a host of other sports – are viewed in the UK.

From 2019, Amazon Prime Video, the tech firm’s online streaming arm, will broadcast 20 Premier League matches a season, including for the first time showing two full rounds of fixtures, one of which will be all 10 matches on Boxing Day.

It’s an unprecedented move, but the news is not a bolt from the blue. In April, Amazon secured the UK rights to broadcast 37 ATP tennis events over the next five years, including the US Open. It was thought that Facebook, which has streamed several UEFA Champions League games this season as part of a partnership deal with Fox Sports, was poised to dip its toes into Premier League broadcasting rights, but Amazon has stolen a march on the social media giant. Thanks to this investment, Amazon is now well-placed to exploit the growing US audience for top-flight English football.

For Amazon, it makes perfect business sense to invest now. It has been well-publicised that the final two packages of Premier League TV rights have struggled to sell, remaining at auction for nearly four months. The reluctance from Sky and BT to acquire the last two packages (although BT has now taken one of the remaining packages, increasing its total from 42 to 52 live EPL matches per season) suggests both broadcasters are tightening the pursestrings for the foreseeable future. With competition from online tech companies becoming increasingly likely, it makes financial sense for Sky and BT to consolidate their market position without unnecessarily overspending and putting themselves at a disadvantage for the bigger battle to come in the next auction in 2021.

By forgoing the smallest package to a new online competitor, Sky and BT may argue this will help ensure they are as well-resourced as possible to retain the top-tier packages that matter most in the next EPL rights auction in three years’ time. Nevertheless, this is like an open goal for Amazon to get a foothold in the broadcasting rights game, even if the package they secured was equivalent to a Europa League place. The question remains, though – will this calculated gamble pay off for the major TV broadcasters?

It’s likely that Amazon’s entrance into the EPL TV rights market will open the floodgates to ambitious tech companies, each looking to seize a piece of the highly lucrative Premier League pie for themselves. While companies such as Facebook and Google refused to confirm whether they were involved in the bidding process, it has become increasingly apparent that the biggest tech companies are aligning themselves to make a move in sports broadcasting in the near future, with football high on the agenda. Although Amazon may have caught their competitors cold and taken the lead against the run of play, their win will embolden more tech companies to get involved in the next auction for domestic rights in 2021.

Despite Amazon’s success, there are still a number of issues that tech companies will need to overcome before they can fully challenge the Sky/BT axis of power in sports broadcasting. Kieran Maguire, a football finance expert at the University of Liverpool, told Press Association Sport that “the issue of monetising subscribers” still poses a major obstacle for the tech giants.

Nevertheless, Maguire conceded that the huge overseas interest in the EPL will eventually encourage more tech firms to enter this market. By 2021, it is highly likely that Facebook and Google will be sufficiently prepared to compete, in a move that will have Sky and BT nervously looking over their shoulders and Premier League bosses rubbing their hands together with glee.

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