Over on Twitter—follow me here!—I asked for recommendations for what I should cover in today’s strategy column. (Normally I try to do a “Most Important Story…” article every other week, but since I haven’t written one in a month, this is more like the “most important story of June”.)
Overall, the consensus was that I needed to write something Disney related. Between Bob Chapek’s renewal by the Disney board or Lightyear’s miss at the box office (a miss that only stings deeper as the Minion’s franchise set records), Disney was on everyone’s minds.
But I’m pivoting to sports media rights. (Which still includes two deals for Disney.) The sum total of all these sports stories just edged out those Disney stories. We don’t quite know where the future of streaming sports rights will end up, but the picture is becoming clearer.
Most Important Story of the Week – A Power Ranking of All The Sports Media Rights News
The only trouble with picking “sports rights” as my topic of the month is picking which sports media deal as the most important. IPL rights? MLS soccer rights? Champions league?
Why pick one when we can choose them all? Here’s a “Power Ranking” of the sports media rights deals, in my order of importance.
1. Viacom18 and Disney’s Hotstar split Indian IPL Rights (Viacom18 Won Streaming Rights)
The Indian subcontinent is huge for subscriber numbers for the streamers, so I had my eye on who would take the prize. The answer turned out to be Viacom18, a local company which Paramount Global has a stake in and a few other players (like the Murdochs) have also funded. Read my take at The Ankler for details.
2. Amazon and BT Sports Secure Champions League (Soccer) UK Rights
When I wrote about the IPL rights, I wrote this paragraph:
This applies to sports too. In the U.S., the NFL is king. In Europe and Latin America, soccer isn’t just king, but some sort of emperor of Rome. In India, the IPL is the market leader. Thus, the frenzy.
Each country basically has its own favorite sport. And that sport isn’t on top by a little bit, but by miles and miles. So Amazon bought Champion’s League rights in the UK, acquiring the rights to twenty games, while BT Sport secured the rest.
The funny thing about football/soccer is that there is no “one” set of soccer rights to buy. In America, the NFL and college football are really the only football game in town. But in soccer, there’s each country’s individual league (of which the EPL is the biggest), there are international tournaments (of which the World Cup is the biggest) and still there are events like the Champion’s League. Lots and lots of soccer to be had.
So is this a good buy by Amazon? Yes. Does it corner the market on football/soccer in the U.K.? Hardly. In fact, Amazon lost out on rights to Champions League games to Canal+ in France.
Bonus Antitrust Thought: Warner Bros. Discovery is trying to create a joint venture with BT Sport in the U.K. But the U.K.’s competition watchdog is investigating, a la the renewed focus on antitrust in the U.S. This is a case to monitor for future mergers.
3. ESPN Renews Formula One Rights
Formula 1 media rights in America have filled a big hole for ESPN, allowing them to put on live sports on weekends when football is out of season. As such, ESPN has helped drive the ratings increase for Formula 1 in the U.S. So ESPN had to pay a much bigger fee (up to $75-90 million from $5 million previously) to keep the rights for a few more years.
What’s that you say? Netflix drove the interest in F1 ratings? I thoroughly debunked that notion here for The Ankler (though I still see people saying it all the time). Two thoughts on that:
1. If Netflix knows it’s making F1 rights popular, why didn’t they bid on the rights? Besides the technical issues, I think Netflix knows it’s reach doesn’t come close to ESPN. Ask yourself, do you think F1 ratings would go up if it had moved to Netflix?
2. The NHL is currently seeing a ratings boost this year after it moved from NBC Sports to ESPN/ABC/TNT. But there’s no Netflix show driving this boost!
Again, Netflix helped drive interest in Formula 1. But so did ESPN, a renewed social push, and smart changes to the league by the new owners, Liberty Media.
(Also, some reports indicated that Amazon actually offered more money, but F1 demurred for larger reach. That’s a genius strategic move in my opinion. Can you imagine how low the ratings would be on Prime Video?)
4. Apple Signs a Big MLS Deal
Of all of the sports rights deals, this probably got the most attention, but with the most misleading headlines. As Too Much TV points out, Apple basically agreed to make a streaming service for Major League Soccer in the U.S., which will likely have its own separate fee. Apple will still stream some games and will control a lot of the rights, so it is an expense by Apple in that regards. But success will hinge on whether folks want sign up for this new service.
And that’s sort of the rub. Remember two sections above when I said soccer/football was huge in Europe? Well, that doesn’t really apply to the MLS. This deal is fine, but far from a game-changer. I mean, Apple paid $250 million for global streaming ratings. There are players in Europe who have signed contacts that big.
(Though is it more evidence that Apple sees their success in streaming as going through sports media rights? Yes, it does. As it should.)
5. XFL Rights to Disney/ABC/ESPN/ESPN+
Disney also secured XFL rights, a league that apparently still exists. If the MLS is small, the XFL is tiny. But this is part of ESPN’s quest to have live sports on all the time, and as much football as possible.
Which Way Are Sports Rights Heading?
My prediction has been that this wave of media rights will continue to increase, especially as the linear bundle is still mostly intact, and big tech players are spending big too. But if either or both of those supports fall out—say the linear bundle erodes by the end of 2030 and either Amazon or Apple find out that streaming isn’t a good biz—then I could see a flattening in sports rights.
I’d add, there does seem like a ceiling to what each streamer will spend on sports. Apple still hasn’t committed—as far as I can see—to a multi-billion dollar deal.
Does all this feel a little bubbly? Absolutely, especially if streaming isn’t nearly as lucrative as the old linear bundle.