The Premier League, Serie A and LaLiga should come to market for their domestic media rights in 2021. The tender results for the Premier League, always considered as a gauge of the sports broadcasting market dynamics, will be even more closely scrutinized this year, at a time of a global pandemic. The long expected drop - or at least market correction - in the sports media rights value could hit even harder than expected, with the aftermath of COVID-19 on both pay TV operators and the value of the product itself (games behind locked doors, players' absence or fatigue do not serve the beauty of the game).
But the pandemic impact only comes on top of the already existing concerns for sports rights owners: the lack of competition between broadcasters in a single market, always the prime determinant in a tender process, and piracy. After all, the Premier League already experienced a decrease in its media rights value in the current cycle, mainly because of Sky and BT putting an end to the bidding war with their mutual carriage deal. Last year, the fees of Bundesliga rights awarded to DAZN and Sky were also slightly lower than in the previous cycle, while it seemed a perfect time to come to market, with Amazon and Telekom as potential threats. In Spain, the market is far from being competitive, with Mediapro in financial trouble, and Movistar having recently struck a distribution deal with DAZN.
Another key element to watch will be the behaviour of Amazon, which has already entered the sports broadcasting market in all the top 5 European countries except for Spain. The e-commerce giant could take advantage of the crisis situation in French football to enrich significantly its rights portfolio, besides the French Open. Indeed, a new bidding process had been launched in emergency over the last couple of weeks by the French professional football league, the LFP, to reattribute the rights handed back by Mediapro. The first round has not been successful, despite interests from Amazon, DAZN or Discovery.
Therefore, the LFP will enter private negotiations with potential broadcasters. So will Serie A, which has also moved to the second round of the process. After securing rights to some Champions League games from next season, Amazon was expected to take part in the bidding for Serie A domestic rights, but reportedly did not. Serie A was hoping to break the one billion euros per season barrier with its new tender.
In this regard, the Italian League has recently agreed to create a new media unit with a consortium of investment firms, led by CVC Capital Partners and Advent International, which would own a 10% stake in the entity. The involvement of private equity firms has become an intensifying trend over the last months, with CVC investing in different rugby properties, and many firms looking at a minority stake in the Bundesliga International entity, responsible for selling international rights to the German soccer top-tier.
In the end, 2021 looks like the year of all dangers, not only for broadcasters but even more for top soccer European leagues - which could also be affected by the creation of a potential Super European league - and the outcome might send a signal to the whole sports media landscape.