Media

Football TV rights facing ‘deflation’, warns BT Sport chief


Europe’s top football leagues should be braced for a period of “deflation” in the value of their television rights, one of the sport’s biggest-spending broadcasters has warned, as the financial disruption from the pandemic deepens.

The spiralling value of media rights has poured money into the game in recent decades, with clubs in England, Germany, Spain, Italy and France, Europe’s five biggest leagues, earning a combined €17bn in revenues last season, primarily through TV contracts.

Simon Green, head of BT Sport, one of the largest broadcast partners for the English Premier League and the Champions League, Europe’s top club tournament, said this trend was set to end.

“There’s certainly going to be a rights correction and it may be seen and interpreted by many as rights deflation,” Green told the Financial Times Business of Football Summit on Wednesday.

“It would be a welcome change to the market . . . Over the last 20 or 30 years with some particular examples of where broadcasters pay an awful lot of money for rights. I don’t think that’s going to happen so much going forward now, so I do see a realignment.”

The comments will come as a blow to the Premier League, as it prepares later this year an auction for the rights to broadcast matches in the UK in the three seasons between 2022 and 2025. 

The existing domestic screening contract, shared by Sky, BT Sport and Amazon, is worth £5bn over three years — higher than any rival domestic league and has made English clubs among the sport’s richest.

Advertising losses caused by the pandemic, alongside the “cord-cutting” of younger viewers switching to digital services such as Netflix, has led broadcasters to scale back spending on sports rights.

Last June, domestic TV rights for the Bundesliga, the top league in Germany, were sold for €4.4bn over four years from 2021 — 5 per cent less than the previous deal.

Claire Enders, founder of Enders Analysis, the media research firm, said that since the “peak” of the market in 2018, the value of global sports rights have dropped by about 15 per cent. “Part of the decline is, of course, Covid related . . . but the overall trend has been very well established,” she said.

Andrew Georgiou, president of Eurosport, the sports network owned by US media conglomerate Discovery, said that younger people were showing less interest in sports, particularly football, which could knock future revenue growth in the game.

“The underlying demand of the consumer is something that everyone needs to be worried about, not just the competition between the broadcasters,” he said.

Football is already facing huge disruption from the coronavirus crisis, with leading clubs suffering revenue shortfalls as stadiums remain closed. The Premier League has said that £100m is being lost every month across English football with fans shut out of stadiums.

Facing a cash crunch, European clubs are also struggling to reduce costs because of their contractual obligations with star players, many of whom have pushed back against pay cuts.

Jonathan Barnett, executive chairman of ICM Stellar Sports, the agency that represents stars such as Tottenham Hotspur’s Gareth Bale and Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish, said he would resist salary reductions for clients, although he was open to deferrals in some cases.

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“I can understand helping the club, but when that club gets back to the level where it was, surely they should pay back the money,” said Barnett. “What I’m for is people running a business properly . . . Nobody held a gun up to clubs and said, ‘You’ve got to pay X amount of money to a player’.”



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