For the first time in Asia-Pacific, the Premier League has offered a two-cycle/six-year rights package in an open tender in some markets, marking an end to its one-size-fits-all sales strategy.
Within APAC, deals have concluded in some key markets: Australia, Japan, Singapore and Thailand. Malaysia remains unsold, while India will close in December and Indonesia will be offered early next year.
A handful of sports properties such as the Fifa World Cup, the Olympics and Formula 1 resonate across the whole of Asia.
None, however, grabs the interest and share of programming budgets like the English Premier League (EPL).
Bidding has taken place and rights won in Australia (Optus), Hong Kong (LeTV), Japan (MP & Silva), Singapore (Singtel), Thailand (BeIn Sports) and Vietnam (MP & Silva). China was sold three years ago, as part of a six-year deal.
Much is at stake. Fees went up in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and Vietnam, but declined in Thailand.
Singapore was basically flat, selling at about the same level as the last two cycles.
In Malaysia, the Premier League has yet to sell its rights, having not been offered a price it felt it could accept, opting instead for direct conversations in the market.
In India, the sales tender has been released with bids due next month. The Indonesia sales process will take place next year.
The EPL has taken three different approaches across these markets, a departure from its previous strategy:
- In Australia, Malaysia, and Thailand, the Premier League for the first time excluded agencies such as IMG and MP & Silva from bidding, preferring direct relationships with its broadcasters;
- In Japan, Korea and Vietnam, agencies (and broadcasters) were allowed to bid, a tacit acknowledgement that in-market agencies might be better suited to extract value from these markets;
- In Singapore and India – for the first time in Asia – the Premier League is selling rights in an open tender on both a three-year and a six-year basis. (China already has a six-year deal, but as an on-going arrangement extended by three years.) Broadcasters are required to bid for both three and six years, with the longer term awarded should there be a significant premium
By changing its approach, the Premier League has adapted its sales style to maximize revenue in different markets.
Its six-year offer in Singapore was designed to help it increase rights fees, which were flat at the last cycle.
Rights to six years give a channel or platform more opportunity to build its business, which might have enticed BeIn Sports and StarHub.
In the end however, Singtel the incumbent renewed its rights for another three years.
The Premier League will try this approach again for India, to encourage bidders in a market, like many others, hit by a weakening currency.
A six-year offer gives a buyer the chance to see a currency rebound and build the property in a country traditionally dominated by cricket.
The ability to grow the tournament in India is especially important, as Premier League clubs regard the market as strategically important.
Excluding agencies in a number of markets, meanwhile, reflects two things: confidence that the Premier League can sustain competitive tension without them; and an acknowledgement that agencies often work in their own interests and not those of the Premier League.
In the end, MP & Silva secured rights in all markets where agencies could still participate, paying a significant increase to take back rights from IMG in Japan and Vietnam, as well as securing rights in Korea and Taiwan.
With MP & Silva looking to sell 40% of its business in a trade sale next year, a large portfolio of Premier League rights in Asia was seen as vital to its value.
The lineup of bidders also shifted, especially with the arrival of BeIn Sports, backed by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund.
This relative newcomer has strengthened its position in Thailand but lost out in its key growth market, Australia.
Eurosport, now part of Discovery, has not looked to build on its position in Singapore where it has already secured Champions League and Europa League rights.
In addition, recently launched channel network Eleven Sports stayed out of the fight in Malaysia and Singapore.
Fox Sports has also been quiet, as it already has a spread of premium rights that includes Bundesliga, Formula 1, tennis grand slams and golf majors.
There are also challenges ahead for the EPL in some big markets, notably in Malaysia where Astro has a dominant position and a depreciating ringgit makes monetizing rights ever more difficult.
Although the sales process has already taken place, rights have not been awarded.
As always, there were surprises: winners in Optus and LeTV who paid significant increases in Australia and Hong Kong; the increased values paid by MP & Silva in Japan and Vietnam; as well as the decline in fees in Thailand – a rare event.
There may be more surprises in store. In India, will Star Sports hold on to the rights or suffer the same loss as Fox Sports in Australia?
In Indonesia, meanwhile, all bets are on BeIn Sports for its core APAC market, where it operates a bespoke Bahasa feed supported by local production.
Having been rational in its pricing for other markets, BeIn may not overpay in Indonesia, especially if there is government pressure to make games available on free-to-air.