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Listen: Next in Tech | Episode 148: Media deals in the Premier League and NWSL

A set of significant deals in sports media rights have just closed and Richard Berndes returns to explore their impacts with host Eric Hanselman. There’s a shifting mix of free-to-air, pay TV and streaming providers competing for the rights to air games. The English Premier League just settled a four year deal with a record total valuation and the U.S. National Women’s Soccer League closed one at forty times its previous. All of this cash may be aiding gender parity in coaching pay, as well.

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Next in Tech - Episode 148 Media deals in the Premier League and NWSL

Table of Contents

Call Participants.............................................................................................................. 3

Presentation.................................................................................................................... 4

Question and Answer...................................................................................................... 5

Call Participants

ATTENDEES

Eric Hanselman

Richard Berndes

Presentation

Eric Hanselman

Welcome to Next In Tech, an S&P Global Market Intelligence podcast with the world of emerging tech lives. I'm your host, Eric Hanselman, Chief Analyst for Technology, Media and Telecom at S&P Global Market Intelligence. And we're going to be kicking off the new year with a discussion about sports rights licensing.

There has been a whole buzz that's been going on. The Primary League rights just gone under agreement. There is activity in the U.S. national women's soccer league. There are all sorts of things that are happening. And to kick off the year right with me, Richard Berndes is coming back to get us going. So Richard, welcome back to the podcast.

Richard Berndes

It's great to back here. Nice to be talking to you again.


 

Question and Answer

Eric Hanselman

And a lot to talk about. At the end of the year, I guess, there was a lot of question as to when some of these deals would close and the negotiations and everything that was going on. But the Premier League has at least gotten the first stage of this out and underway.

Richard Berndes

Yes, with the Premier League, it's the deal for 2025 to 2029. And there was a lot of discussion around the potential new players coming in, some of the streamers Disney disowned. But in the end, it was quite a simple agreement really. It didn't get to a second stage. So very interesting times. And again, as you touched, Eric, the U.S. Women's National Soccer League, there's some big developments there, which would be good to get into.

Eric Hanselman

Yes. Well, on the Premier League, I thought it was interesting, if this year, I guess one of the things we talked about was what that span of those rights deals we're looking at and some of the market image that was, I think, the various participants were looking for. Of course, if we think about primary league wanting to give a good impression here, they went for an extra year compared to the previous agreement.

Richard Berndes

That's Right. It's the first time the English Premier League has gone to 4 years. Traditionally, it's always been 3-year deals, and they've used that each cycle to basically ramp up the revenue they've taken a year's time to try and encourage new players into the market. Obviously, in the last deal, Amazon came in, which made it an interesting development, but they've kept it at 3 years compared to other countries and territories. But in the last couple of years, there's been 6-year deals with Nordic areas.

And more recently with America, there's been a 10-year deal for the Premier League. So I think a lot of sports rights now are probably looking for longevity, security of revenue after the COVID issue. So it's not a surprise, but it's an interesting point, Eric.

Eric Hanselman

Well, is that something where -- again, it seems like from the leagues' perspective, they're going to be trading off maybe an opportunity to put together deals that are going to give them better value in the short term and it seems like they could be concerned about lock-in for rates. But it sounds like for this particular deal, they just wanted to make sure the deal got done and we're able to come back from the table with something that, I guess, everybody could say they were winning on.

Richard Berndes

That's Right. I think for the Premier League, I think, what they really wanted to see was an increase in revenue. They wanted to see the actual revenue coming through the door going up, which is what they achieved. But if you dig a little bit deeper, the actual revenue they're achieving per game has gone down compared to the peak a few years ago. So I think that was to be expected.

But I think all the Premier League, we're looking for, was more money through the door to get to themselves into the clubs because for the Premier League, it's all about the revenue to attract the best players and the best managers, and they weren't paying well. And the vast majority of that revenue comes from broadcast rights.

Eric Hanselman

Well, and it certainly does look like a deal that is going to ensure that, that level of revenue gets generated for the leagues.

Richard Berndes

Yes, certainly. GBP 6.7 billion is the figure being reported, which is up roughly about a 3% increase on the last deal. But I think the key thing to worry around that that's just the domestic deal here in the U.K., which is the biggest deal in U.K. broadcast history. But outside that, the overseas revenue will be added on top of that. And just to sort of touch on that to give you a bit of sort of reality in the '23, '24 season, the British Premier League or the English Premier League, sorry, was taking EUR 2 billion per season, whereas the combined top European leagues only achieved EUR 1.2 billion. So that just shows the scale of the Premier League compared to all the other major soccer leagues.

Eric Hanselman

Well, yes. It's a dominant position in terms of where that market is. And I guess, as we've seen, the Primary League really is the premier venue when we start looking at that. And with revenues like that, it means that, that does have a tendency to help feed forward just simply the fact that there is that kind of cash available to continue to build a league, to continue to fund the operations, the teams that are participating and continue pushing those astronomical salaries that seem to keep going down for the players.

Richard Berndes

Yes. Yes. I think it's the same for most books. It goes to the players. And that's what attracts the best and that's what people want to see. And that's essentially what customers want to see. They want to see the best of the best, and that comes at a cost, and that comes generally through Pay TV.

Eric Hanselman

And that's an interesting piece to this. When we think about which aspects -- and for the Premier League deal, it seems like streaming was not as big -- or as much as I think maybe many anticipated in terms of what that final deal was actually got settled as.

Richard Berndes

Yes. I mean, last cycle, there was 7 packages available. This time, there's only 5 packages available and not one broadcast to buy all 5 packages. And I think that was a reaction to the last year where Amazon came into the Premier League, and they were essentially giftwrapped a deal by the Premier League of roughly GBP 30 million per season, which is not a lot. And for that, they got 2 complete cycles of matches for a whole weekend. And I think that was just trying the entire streamers and also to show streamers that live soccer could work.

So it was an enticement from the Premier League, I believe, to get Amazon involved. I think for Amazon, where they showed the game was very interesting, they had their game at the beginning of December and on Boxing Day, which are obviously key trading times for Amazon and Amazon Prime around Black Thursday and sales and things like that. So for Amazon, I think it gave them a really robust set of data they didn't have before on live sports.

And I think they used that very, very well in their marketing. Now for them, it was a bigger package and it would cost more money for Amazon. And I don't think Amazon were ever going to go for it, to be honest with you. But the other thing Amazon do have is they have Champions League rights starting next season. So they still do have live football presence, but it won't be Premier League.

Eric Hanselman

That is interesting because, of course, this year, Amazon was streaming here in the States, American football over the Thanksgiving holiday and had the Black Friday rights and it seems like it's exactly the same thing that you're describing, which is that they want to do that combined sports and selling integration piece that hopefully helps to foster the actual selling events because they can go run advertising, do merchandising tie-ins with the sports events that they're actually streaming.

Richard Berndes

Yes. I think for Amazon, they have to remember, they're a commerce business and their content has developed off the back of that. And I just think for the sport because it is such a unique valuable audience that getting that analysis and data of how people watch live sport and how they interact with things was key for Amazon. So I think they probably realized they've got enough out of it with the deal they had last time.

But obviously, they still got the Champions League, right, it's coming up, which they've got under a few territories as well. So they still will have a presence in live European football and obviously, the high end as well with the Champions League.

Eric Hanselman

Interesting. Well, when we only think about what that presence is and the participants and that spread of participants in this market. We talked about the U.S. National Women's Soccer League, they've just completed a groundbreaking deal that has a dramatic increase in revenue. If you think about what they've done and certainly great visibility, but also a really interesting deal.

Richard Berndes

Yes, I think, what you will see with the latest deal, you've got a lot of pay TVs going in there compared to like the free-to-air exposure was getting before. And this is a major debate with live sport in terms of what they do with their rights. Obviously, free-to-air gives the bigger exposure to so many more people. Pay TV, the audience is going to be smaller because everyone has Pay TV. But the reason Pay TV wants sports rights is because of that fantastic commercial profile it delivers.

But also, I think that Sport is probably one of the few things now that people have to watch live. It's sort of, as you say, water cooler moment stuff that you can't stream or catch up on, you have to watch it live, and that means you have to watch it together. The world watches it together.

The 100 meters final with the Olympics, for example, you don't want to miss that. You want to watch that live. And that's the unique thing the sport brings to any broadcaster, be it Amazon, CBS, ESPN. It's that unique live moment in the world that can't be repeated, and that's the value of sport.

Eric Hanselman

It's that immediacy, it's the urgency, it's the right here and now.

Richard Berndes

It is. And I think, generally, you do get a very commercially viable profile of a lot of sport. It's generally the male audience and an upmarket male -- and that changes depending on the sport really. In Europe, Rugby, for example, has a very upmarket male profile, which is really popular with sort of high-end brands like high-end cars, insurance, airlines and things like that. But it's just that immediacy of, you have to watch it now. It's exciting, more exciting than another episode of The Crown, shall we say.

Eric Hanselman

Richard, come on. You're coming down on The Crown?

Richard Berndes

Yes, it's not my favorite show.

Eric Hanselman

But certainly, there isn't the urgency. I'm still catching up with like the third season. And to that point, for Premier League games, I watch them when they happen, right?

Richard Berndes

Yes. I was a game on Sunday and it was very exciting. It was a 4-1 win to my favorite team.

Eric Hanselman

Well, this actually is an interesting point. And I'll point back to the U.S. National Women Soccer League. One of the questions that's been raised. So the deal actually this splits us across 4 networks: It's CBS, ESPN, Amazon and Scripps ION. And one of the things that got kicked up was this question of, was this going to make it more difficult for audiences to be able to watch the games because you're talking women's soccer in the U.S. is growing dramatically. There's a lot of discussion about building a fan base and really growing that.

And that question was whether or not now having the game scattered across these 4 different venues was potentially a challenge for building audience. And it gets into the question of, are you doing better by getting into more different media? Does splitting it can make it more complicated? And of course, that age-old question of, does this actually start to erode in-person attendance in the games, which is another more direct revenue stream for the teams themselves.

Richard Berndes

I'll just start with your last point, Eric. I mean, traditionally, in the U.K., a soccer match kicks off on Saturday at 3:00 p.m., that's traditional time when all soccer kicked off. Now in the current deal with the Premier League, that 3:00 p.m. matches are blacklisted. You can't show them live in the U.K. Now all Premier League games is shown live across the world, but in the U.K., the 3:00 is a sacred slot, and it can't be -- none of those games can share.

For that very reason, there's the belief that it would erode attendances at live games, especially if you go down the sporting pyramid to those grassroots levels of sport, which really need a live audience coming through. So that's why that blackout is in place just to keep the possibility of watching live sport at the same time as a possibility and the Premier League is behemoth of a thing, basically stamping over the leagues at the lower level. So that's still the case.

But interestingly, with the women's game, now the American National Soccer team is like one of the successful all-time and like a benchmark of women's soccer success. One of the interesting that's coming out of the U.K. is, with the own women's soccer league here, there is a feeling potentially that there's been a grassroot review of the whole genre of the sport and looking for an opportunity for how do they grow it and finding a dedicated broadcast slot is one thing that's been discussed by the government and the women's soccer authorities.

And there's some feeling that potentially Saturday 3:00 p.m. could be an opportunity for women's professional soccer to be shown live. Now there is some pushback off the back of this, saying, well [ ECI ] is going to do the same thing. But it's something that's been discussed here within football the authorities that actually having that setting 3:00 p.m. slot for women's professional football, could that be the way to grow the sport.

Eric Hanselman

Well, and we don't need to actually talk about the U.S. Women's World Cup performance most recently that I'm sure they will be doing better and audiences will be growing. And actually, to that end, it was great to see that talking about ensuring that revenues are generating salaries, it was great to see that actually an English women standout, Emma Hayes, is actually going to be coaching the U.S. Women's World Cup team.

Richard Berndes

Yes, I noticed that. I mean that's fantastic. I think women's sport is such a huge opportunity and it's great to see it growing on that same level, the way women's tennis is, is on the same level as men's tennis now. And I think that opportunity for women sport sort of grow and have parity in terms of like exposure. And also the financial rewards for the athletes involved, I think, is a fantastic thing.

Eric Hanselman

Well, and the fact that she'll be earning at the same level as the men's coach, finally?

Richard Berndes

Fantastic, yes.

Eric Hanselman

Which was not the case prior to her arrival. So again, maybe this is also another one of these parity issues that now that there is the revenue from the deal because if we think about what's funding all of this, if there is more revenue to generate it, hopefully, we can get the issues of parity across sport altogether.

Richard Berndes

Yes. As I touched on before, I think, the reason why the big money comes into sport is because of what it is, there's nothing that really can touch it in terms of the appeal and the immediacy and the passion that it generates in your team or your nation. And I think that's the reason why TV companies prepare to pay a lot of money for it because of that very excitement and the passion and the audience commercially it brings to it. And that's the reason why it's the biggest game in town.

Eric Hanselman

Well, and it certainly seems like certainly from a rights perspective, and that's something that I think there are this whole set of trade-offs of how the teams are managing rights? How you manage attendance? As you pointed out, especially when you get out of the limelight. Because here in the States, of course, we had sports blackouts. If a particular game wasn't sold out, it would be blacked out regionally on broadcast coverage.

But there are these questions about now in a world in which you've got lots of different avenues where streaming is available in so many different levels, so many different forms as to what that trade-off is and whether or not that's something where we're getting to a point at which the fan experience starts to be that question of, can you see the same kinds of things you'd see in person.

And what's the extent to which that the broadcast experience actually winds up potentially being better than what you see in person and what those trade-offs are because now we're getting into areas of where the broadcast technology starts to play and how you start to balance both the gate revenue requirements, what the teams want to do with actually getting fans and seats and fan motivation to actually be there.

Richard Berndes

You're absolutely right, Eric. I mean, with this current deal, I think there's only about 100 games not going to be shown live on the Premier League now. So they're going to get to the point where to raise revenue for it, they have to sell everything. Now that is a bigger question. But I think the reason that people like it is they need the atmosphere in the stadium, they want to hear the chanting. They want to see their passion.

So if it's a dead environment where all you've got is uninterested people just being there because they look at a sporting event like going to a theater sometimes as you see it as part of like going on holiday, you go to see a show in the West End or Broadway and then you go and see an NFL game or you're going to see a Premier League game, it's seen as an experience now. Whereas compared to when I started going to soccer, it was a very different experience and it only costed me GBP 1 to get in to see a Premier League game, where it was called Division 1 in those days.

But now you're paying anything between GBP 60 to GBP 80 to GBP 90 to see a Premier League game. So the accessibility for young fans is a problem, I think, but I think young fans are also engaging in the sport in a slightly different way. They're engaging with their favorite players on Instagram and clips on TikTok, so they do engage with it. But I think there's a price barrier to go into a live sport event for the younger people that's quite prohibitive that wasn't there in my day.

Eric Hanselman

Well, and even in an environment that has a set of protections around ticket prices that we don't see in other parts of the world. Certainly, in the U.S., ticket resale is something that for more popular games has, in many cases, put the cost of tickets for key games, well out of reach of the average fan. And at least in the U.K., there are at least protections around some of those challenges, but even so that still you look at ticket prices that are really not in the range of an average everyday purchase.

Richard Berndes

No, it's not. I have 3 sons and they're as passionate about soccer as I am. And for us to all get together, you could be close to spending GBP 400 to GBP 500 to go and see a 2-hour soccer match. Sometimes the numbers are quite crazy. The TV exposure is good. But as I say, I think for the TV thing, they want to hear the passion of the crowd. They want to hear the fans sing at each other. They want to see all that. They don't want to see a stale environment.

So it's a balancing act that needs to be managed in a same way whether you go Pay TV or free-to-air. It has to be a balancing act for that exposure. For commercial clients, for example, they need the big exposure on the free-to-air channels to get those big audience numbers. The sponsors want as well. So it's a balancing act of how much Pay TV, how much free-to-air exposure you get.

Eric Hanselman

That's one of those things if you think about how they're really looking at leveraging revenue. Much of this is really about both what is the short-term gain and being able to get the broadcast out there to being able to look at revenue from the Pay TV angles and looking to then also hopefully balance that with the in-person attendance and ticket sales and the gate at the stadium themselves.

Richard Berndes

Yes, I think, there's a big opportunity, I think, with the metaverse at S&P, we've touched on a few times and how clubs are using the metaverse to give fans the experience of real time being at the game, Manchester City or the Champions here in the Premier League, and Real Madrid, who are the biggest club in Spain, arguably the biggest soccer club in the world. They're very hot on their metaverse experience for their fans. You can actually will grown the stadium and be part of the experience because you might not be able to go to the game.

But you are to Real Madrid, you're as much a fan if you're in Beijing, as you are in Madrid and the opportunities that presents to the club to market to those fans and have those one-to-one connections with fans, which is so important for any brand to grow. And that metaverse, I think, presents that opportunity. There's now scales available that measure the passion of the fans. They have technology now that basically measures where the busiest concession stands in the stadium, if one is busy, they open another one up. So the whole, the metaverse as interactive sport is a very interesting space.

Eric Hanselman

It's the metaverse. It's the further digitization and the Internet of Things and instrumentation of the stadium itself and new angles of fan experience. I guess that also starts to open up that question of, is the fan experience in the stadium something that exceeds what they can actually get from a metaverse experience. Of course, if you aren't physically able to travel to the stadium, that opens up a whole new door, but interesting to see what those trade-offs are.

And because we talk about all of the extension of better camera systems, if we look at all of the additional camera capabilities, you have multi-angle views and I know last weekend, I was certainly watching a set of contested calls and trying to figure out what is where.

But what I could see from the broadcast were a set of things that would be harder to see if you're a fan, unless, of course, you've got the ability to go stream those same video-assisted referee calls back to fans that are actually in the stands, so they can actually see what's going on at the same time.

Richard Berndes

Well, I think, most soccer fans here in the U.K. are fed up to the bad treatment with VAR. It doesn't seem to be working here in the Premier League, and it is a minefield. I think the idea was good. It's now being used so often that if you slow an incident down 20x and you show it from 15 different angles, you're going to put a doubt in someone's mind, whereas actually would the referee have made the right call in the first place.

If you just have goal-line technology, that's sort of black and white, yes or no, but there's been so many mistakes and bad calls with VAR. I think it is good, but I think it probably needs to be refined.

Eric Hanselman

Well, it opens up that door to what the fan experience happens to be. And it's what you're trying to achieve a little bit of that human element in the game. And if what you're identifying before is, you want the passion, you want the fans to be focused on the game itself. And if you step back and have a fully technical assessment of what the game looks like, maybe that actually drains a little bit of the passion out of it.

Richard Berndes

If you just think about it, now you can't celebrate a goal. One of the greatest joys in life is seeing your team score a goal, a last minute winner, an equalizing goal against your deadliest rivals and that effectively has been cut by 30% because you can't see that right because it's going to be reviewed.

Eric Hanselman

You got to pause, you got to think.

Richard Berndes

Yes, you can't properly celebrate a goal. As a sports fan, one of the greatest closures of life is you're going nuts in the stand with your friends and your fellow fans, but you can't do that anymore.

Eric Hanselman

Well, and that's a pretty unique situation with soccer specifically because it is a game that flows. And so much of that, it's continuous play.

Richard Berndes

Yes.

Eric Hanselman

If you look at American football, it's stop start, stop start, stop start. So the time for video review is actually built into the way the game flows. Time for commercials is right as well.

Richard Berndes

Yes. You're absolutely right, Eric. And maybe I've just got my soccer hat on, but you're absolutely right. I guess there's so many other sports like American football, tennis, cricket here in the U.K., there are natural breaks in the game, where the game stops and you're used to it. I guess, from a soccer point of view, it feels a little bit unnatural, but yes, it does work for other sports.

Eric Hanselman

I think it's just the impact in other sports is less. And hey, in the beautiful game...

Richard Berndes

Yes.

Eric Hanselman

You're hoping to get that kind of flow and that going, but one more aspect of the fan experience...

Richard Berndes

Indeed.

Eric Hanselman

I guess we'll see as the new year rolls out, what else develops in these markets. Certainly, a lot of interesting activity so far.

Richard Berndes

Yes. I think the one thing that potentially if it is, is the direct-to-customer option that's been discussed a few times in the soccer press and what's known as the Premflix deal, where, could the Premier League, for example, go direct to customer. And so you can watch every single game live. That's something that's been discussed and sort of pushed back and forth. Could that be the next step for the Premier League in that you have direct access to every one of your team's games in a Premflix model society. So that could be the next way forward.

Eric Hanselman

Well, the last time around we were talking about FIFA and their desire to reclaim the rights to what was the FIFA interactive game.

Richard Berndes

Yes.

Eric Hanselman

That, of course, now Electronic Arts has gone off and it continues to sell. Under the FC brand. And it doesn't seem like FIFA has done much in terms of being able to shift the gaming capabilities they have. I wonder if the Premier League would be in a similar sort of challenge trying to build a capability to actually do the direct capability to direct access to fans. Because that will be a big step.

Richard Berndes

It would be, but I think it'd be very hard because I think as the Premier League have said on this issue, they are an organization that essentially puts on roughly 300 football games a year. That's all they do, but they're not a broadcaster. They don't have the capability to broadcast every single game in so many different languages with so different compliance things. I think it's one of these issues has been picked up and discussed and said, why can't we do this.

But maybe in 10, 20 years' time, there will be that capability to watch every single game. And as a fan potentially, would you say, if I'm paying my $30 a month to watch a selection of games, would I rather pay $35 a month and just watch my team every game of the month. I think a lot of fans might go for that. But as it currently stands, I can't see the Premier League having the capabilities to do it themselves. But it's an interesting potential space for it to go into.

Eric Hanselman

Well, it's an interesting evolution in terms of where this fits. Well, I guess we'll see what rolls out in the year ahead.

Richard Berndes

Indeed.

Eric Hanselman

Well, thank you, Richard. This has been great. Appreciate all the perspectives. And again, with all the activity that's been going on, we'll see what else the new year holds for us.

Richard Berndes

Yes. As long as we see some good sporting action, I'm sure most fans will be happy, Eric.

Eric Hanselman

Absolutely. Well, thank you very much. That is it. We are at time for this episode of Next In Tech. I want to thank our audience for staying with us. And thanks to our production team, including Caroline Wright and Kaitlin Buckley on the Marketing and Events teams and our agency partner, the One Nine Nine.

I hope that you'll do is for our next episode where we're going to be talking about the metaverse and some of those things that we're talking about on the sports side, but how they interact in generative AI, some of the ways that generative AI is actually dealing with some of the next stages of the metaverse. I hope you'll join us then because there is always something Next In Tech.

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