Wednesday 13 October 2021 5:42 pm

Uefa hands clubs power over Champions League rights in joint venture with ECA

Uefa will take a step into the unknown on Thursday when it formally launches its search for an agency to help it make more money from the men’s Champions League.

European football’s governing body has worked hand in glove with its favoured partner, Team Marketing, since the inception of its flagship competition almost 30 years ago.

But under pressure from the European Club Association, which represents more than 200 leading teams, it has agreed to change the way its commercial rights are sold.

The move is a significant concession to clubs and illustrates a shift in the balance of power in the aftermath of the European Super League rebellion.

Uefa and the ECA are in the process of establishing a joint venture to manage the rights, which will give clubs an influence over the process that they have long lobbied for.

The belief that the Champions League rights, currently worth €3.2bn (£2.7bn) a year, are underexploited was a driving force behind the ESL breakaway earlier this year.

Clubs are confident that a competitive tender process for an agency to manage the rights from 2024 onwards will ensure an increase in their value.

“Uefa has started the search for a marketing and sales partner to market the commercial rights to its men’s club competitions, including the flagship Uefa Champions League, for the 2024-27 cycle,” it said. 

“This tender process seeks to maximise the significant commercial opportunities available from the new post-2024 format for the Uefa club competitions in the future media and sponsorship landscape.

The tender, which formally launches on Thursday, is expected to attract interest from the biggest names in the industry, such as IMG, Dentsu and Infront. 

The agency chosen will be tasked with selling the rights to all Uefa men’s club competitions, which also include the Europa League and the new Europa Conference League.

“The Request For Proposal is open to qualified organisations with knowledge and expertise to deliver such services,” Uefa added.

“The sales process to commercial partners is anticipated to start in the second quarter of 2022, more than two years before the start of the competitions cycle.”

Why does ECA want Uefa to give it a say in selling Champions League rights?

Those pushing for the ESL argued that the commercial rights to the breakaway competition would be worth €4bn (£3.4bn) a year. 

Sources close to the talks between Uefa and the ECA cite internal projections that suggest the rights for all men’s club competitions could exceed that figure.

By comparison, the NFL’s most recent media rights deal is worth $10.3bn (£7.5bn) a year.

Clubs believe the rights could be marketed more effectively than they have been by Team Marketing, which helped launch the Champions League with Uefa in 1992.

Some are said to favour stipulating a minimum guaranteed value in the next deal with an agency, rather than the established commission basis.

It is also felt that forcing Team Marketing to take part in an open tender will, at the very least, ensure they are engaged on more favourable terms.

Joint venture between Uefa and ECA to manage Champions League

An open tender is the first concrete step involving the new joint venture between Uefa and the ECA, which was first hinted at earlier this year.

Discussions around it hit an impasse in April, a major factor in the 12 founder ESL clubs pushing the button and launching a breakaway competition.

Although the ESL plans swiftly disintegrated and the so-called “dirty dozen” left the ECA, it continued to push for the joint venture. 

The ECA’s new chairman, Paris Saint-Germain president and beIN Media Group chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi, addressed the plans last month.

“We need to work with Uefa to better optimise revenues from club competitions,” he told the ECA’s general assembly in Geneva. 

“To that end, we have recently negotiated a letter of intent with Uefa to establish a new model for commercialising Uefa club competitions. 

“This new model will be a joint venture between the ECA and Uefa with ultimate responsibility for the business and commercial side of the club competitions, resulting in new and better commercial rights strategies and management.  

“In addition, we will also work with Uefa on ways to maximise the value of the new post-2024 format – known as ‘the Swiss model’ – and to improve club relationships with national associations, which is in everyone’s interests.” 

Recruitment for a chief executive to run the joint venture is under way. More details about the organisation and its remit are expected before the end of the year.

It is likely to shape the remaining undecided details of the competitions formats from 2024, which will include the so-called Swiss model Champions League.

That change in format to the flagship competition is set to increase the number of games from 125 to 225, immediately offering potential growth in rights value.

Rights likely to grow in value but won’t rocket, say analysts

Analysts welcomed Uefa’s adoption of an open tender process and forecast rights value growth in the medium term.

“It sounds healthy to me because if you award the contract competitively you have a better chance of getting value for money,” said Francois Godard, senior media and telecoms analyst at Enders Analysis.

“I think the prospects are very bullish. It’s the best football competition in the world. The European public doesn’t seem about to change its faith. So if I were a private investor I would think it’s a very good asset.”

They warned, however, that huge uplifts were unrealistic without new entrants to the broadcast market who are willing to outbid incumbents, as BT Sport did in the UK. 

“Is it going to double in value in the next 10 years? No. Because this competition is very dependent on the competitiveness of broadcasting markets,” Godard added. 

“In the past 10 years it went up but one specific thing stimulated the market, the entrance of BT. And that had an impact on the rest of the continent. We have no sign that this is about to be repeated.”

While streaming services Amazon and Dazn have emerged as rivals to traditional linear broadcasters, neither has shown an appetite for gazumping.

“I’m bullish but it’s a question of medium-term,” said Godard. “I’m not seeing anything pushing up the prices dramatically.”