Sports broadcast rights: who holds the cards?
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Sports broadcast rights: who holds the cards?

A story’s emerged in recent days which again illustrates the turning tide of sports broadcast rights-holding.

Subscription-led broadcasters owning the rights to show some of the world’s biggest sporting competitions is no longer the primary model.


Because sports bodies themselves are seeking a move away from this business model in order to try and increase viewing numbers and attract younger audiences.

The latest story at a glance:

  • In 2016, Sky held the live broadcast rights of all four of golf’s ‘majors’ – the sport’s biggest tournaments, including the US PGA Championship
  • The 2017 PGA Championship takes place next month at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Just a few days ago, the broadcaster announced Sky Sports Golf as the “must-have channel for all golf fans, one of several new services it’s dedicated to some of the UK’s most popular sports
  • But the Professional Golfers' Association of America, which runs the US PGA Championship, wants to pursue a different media model and has declined to renew its contract: “We had a good partnership with Sky but the 2017 US PGA Championship will not be on Sky.” – Jeff Price, chief commercial officer, PGA of America
  • The deal had run for a decade
  • Golf’s authorities are concerned about declining interest in the game and falling rates of participation in key markets such as the US and the UK
  • Twitter had been in talks to show the tournament via digital screening rights
  • The social network has already live-streamed 31 smaller PGA tournaments but never a major
  • But the BBC has now acquired rights for the competition
  • The R&A (Royal & Ancient) – one of golf’s worldwide governing bodies – has described the BBC’s coverage of the sport as “tired and outdated
  • The PGA’s move from Sky to the BBC is another indication of sports bodies shifting from subscription-led broadcasters who want bigger and younger audiences
  • Cricket could be the next sport whose coverage could move in a similar direction, with BT, the BBC and Facebook all interested in acquiring rights

Sky know that they can't keep paying massive figures for sports rights, and are well aware of their need for other more profitable shows.

And digital media companies are already playing a major role in the distribution of top-level sports content*:

  • BT showed clips on Snapchat of the Champions League final
  • The match was also streamed live on YouTube
  • Formula 1 has signed a global Snapchat deal
  • Twitter partnered with the All England Lawn Tennis Club to live-stream its Wimbledon Channel
  • Twitter had also held the rights to show 10 NFL American football games but was outbid by Amazon in a deal worth $50 million
  • Facebook will broadcast 20 live Major League Baseball games in the US this season
  • Twitter is to live-Stream US women’s hockey and basketball (WNBA)
“Broad distribution – multi-platform distribution – is the key objective for us. “We want the ability to engage golf fans of all ages across all platforms. “We want the broadest distribution we can possibly have and are very excited about the plan we have in place.” – Jeff Price, chief commercial officer, PGA of America

Mr Price also talked of “scale of distribution” and added: “Obviously, with all the new platforms that consumers are engaging with, we want to make sure we reach all of them.”

Golf, like some other large sporting organisations, including the International Olympic Committee, and many advertisers, regard targeting youngsters as the key to securing the future of their product.

The net result of this is an inevitably tighter grip – on culture, generally, and sports, specifically – that the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Amazon have established during the past decade.

These platforms, unrestricted by traditional broadcast’s scheduling constraints, have plenty of scope to show a wide range of content related to events themselves, such as behind-the-scenes footage, interviews and analysis.

Another key difference digital platforms offer compared to their traditional counterparts is their ability to encourage and host participation and interaction among the watching fans.

Frank Arthofer, head of the digital at Formula 1 – which has signed a global deal with Snapchat owner Snap, Inc – said:

“This is the first step towards expanding our social media strategy. “We need to continue to bring new fans to the sport – by reaching out to them on social media platforms with behind-the-scenes, fun and engaging content. Snap’s platform is one of the most popular among millennials, a sector we are particularly keen on attracting as it represents the future of our sport.”

What will the sports-rights landscape look like in five years’ time?

As more people cut the cord and move away from the likes of Sky and BT – with many opting for much smaller monthly charges to watch premium content from OTT providers such as Netflix and Amazon – could Sky’s best days be behind them?

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