English Premier League soccer has become the only foreign property guaranteed to drive subscriptions in most television markets around the world. As pay-TV and digital platforms proliferate globally, it is a formula that has resulted in yet another billion-dollar hike in the competition’s international rights haul.
England’s Premier League is truly a commercial behemoth. Having sold its latest three-year batch of domestic rights for just over UK£3 billion last June, it added at least another UK£2.2 billion in the round of international rights sales that was completed this year. No other sports property in the world can dream of attracting such sums outside its own borders.
Speaking to SportsPro at the completion of its own round of international rights sales at the turn of last year – a process believed to have garnered between €240 million and €300 million – the Bundesliga’s Jorg Daubitzer, who runs the German league’s commercial subsidiary DFL Sports Enterprises, said: “It’s not new that they jump from one record to another. If you look what they are doing over the years, especially on the investor side, how they handle their partners, it’s only strongly driven by economic, economic and economic success.”
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Although it might have been said with the suggestion of a sneer, Daubitzer’s assessment holds true. Premier League international rights fees have grown by more than 1,000 per cent in a little over ten years. A decade ago they were worth UK£200 million – a figure that even now would be enviable for most major European leagues. In 2010 they were worth UK£1.4 billion.
Figures are understandably difficult to confirm and, since rights outside the UK are sold in either US dollars or euros, subject to currency fluctuations. Nonetheless, according to SportsPro sources the Premier League made just under US$3.5 billion for its international rights for the three-year cycle from 2013/14 to 2015/16. And that’s before the quickly growing global clip rights have been accounted for.
The selling process, led by league chief executive Richard Scudamore and director of international broadcast and media operations Paul Molnar, has remained more or less the same for the past four cycles. Bids are invited territory by territory, normally contested by both broadcasters and agencies, and if the competition is fierce enough they go to a second round.
In the wake of the Murphy case last year, which gave legal validation to the process of using foreign satellite decoders within the UK, the league did look to protect the value of its domestic rights in this cycle by clawing back some Englishlanguage elements from its European packages and limiting the number of Saturday matches; by all accounts, there were far more lawyer hours billed this time around.
It was also the first time the Premier League sold a package of more than three years, with Super Sports Media Group in China committing to a rumoured US$120 million outlay for the right to sublicense games to regional Chinese networks for the next six years.
“I think the Premier League is probably the best property in the world to sell pay- TV subscriptions with at the moment,” says Andrea Radrizzani, group chief executive of the MP & Silva agency. “There are others, but this is the only one that can give you nine months every year in terms of content and with the biggest brand possible. For every media sports agency the Premier League represents a kind of dream and a big target because it’s probably the most important football league internationally, the most attractive football league, and often the most expensive.”
To continue reading this article, which includes a full round-up of the Premier League's current international rights deals, open up the digital version of the October 2013 magazine feature below.