Sky and BT’s recent acquisition of the 2019-22 Premier League TV rights means that for now, little has changed in the UK’s football broadcasting landscape.
Yet that status quo cannot hold out for much longer, so says one of the industry’s leading executives.
Andrew Georgiou is the chief executive of Lagardère Sports and Entertainment, a sports and entertainment industry leader that sells rights for over 100 football clubs — including 11 Premier League clubs — it manages 250 athletes and provides 10,000 hours of programming to broadcasters every year. So, it’s fair to say the status quo has been pretty kind to the firm at which Georgiou has been at for over a decade. But he is warning against complacency.
“The current models being used to underpin the value of sports media rights — not just the Premier League rights, but across all sports — are unsustainable in the long-term,” he tells City A.M.
Although both Sky and BT have held onto their status as the primary Premier League broadcasters, the combined £4.5bn for five of the seven available packages — Sky will be paying £200m-a-year less — suggests the once-spiralling growth in the price of rights has already stalled. With audiences for Premier League football and other live sport stagnant or even slipping, broadcasters can no longer rely on using the Premier League or other top level sport events as loss-leaders to drive subscriptions.
Of course, with at least £4.5bn entering its coffers over a three-year period — plus further income from the two remaining unsold packages and international rights — the Premier League remains the envy of most other competitions. But if it wants to stay that way, it will have no choice but to adapt to modern consumption models says Georgiou.
“Sport remains an outlier in a world where consumers are able to personalise all their media and content consumption,” he says.
“Sometimes that’s for free but often it’s through flexible pricing models. Rights holders and subscription services continue to bundle content into a one size fits all model where the strategy is clearly to force feed content to consumers by locking them into long-term contracts.
“If the industry continues to fail to provide the content in the way to provide the content in the way fans — especially young fans — want to watch it and pay for it, then why are we surprised that subscription and viewing numbers are down and piracy is up?”
If rights holders want to continue to generate large revenues in the future, Georgiou says they need to pay heed to one of the key features of the modern media giants like Facebook and Twitter — customisation. Football fans are more likely to follow their favourite team or even player than the Premier League itself. When listening to music, millennials are more likely to listen to ultra-personalised playlists on on-demand platforms like Spotify or Apple Music than be at the mercy of a radio DJ. Platforms such as Netflix or Amazon may be more traditional in offering bundled content, but still free audiences from the strictures of TV scheduling.
“The next generation that comes along are not going to become TV watchers,” says Georgiou.
“We’ve got think about how they’re accustomed to consuming content. Everything’s customised. And yet I have to subscribe to every Premier League match Sky chooses to broadcast. I’ve got no choice. So if Sky’s got a package, I’ve got to subscribe to every package.
“But I’m a Liverpool fan, so I might actually only want the Liverpool package. Why am I paying for all this content that I don’t actually watch, that I don’t need and I’m not interested in. And if I want some extra content then why can’t I purchase a match a la carte. Why not?
“If Sky was in the room they’d cringe. They’d say: ‘That’s really going to cause havoc with our business model and we’re not sure if we can retain our revenues if we did that.’ Well, that might be true. But the reality is that’s the way young consumers want to consume.
“Yet we’re not actually delivering to them the experience that they want. And so piracy goes through the roof because young people can’t afford to pay, or commit to £1,000 a year in order to subscribe for Sky. They just can’t commit to it.
“They [broadcasters] have to find ways to reinvent themselves pretty quick.”