Matt Scott: High stakes game for TV rights will keep UEFA’s club giants content

Languid as a footballer, laid back as a football administrator, Michel Platini has never appeared to be one for grand displays of emotion about anything. Even when captaining the victims of one of football’s greatest-ever injustices, as Germany’s goalkeeper Toni Schumacher put his France team-mate Patrick Battiston into a coma in a World Cup semi-final, Platini confronted the negligent referee with a mild flap of his arms.

But if there is one thing that has got the UEFA president exercised in recent times it is the threat of a breakaway European Super League. “They will be thrown out,” was his steely warning when last there were fomentations of revolution from Europe’s top clubs, in 2011.

That seemed to be the low point of relations between UEFA and the representative European Clubs Association. Within a year the ECA and UEFA reached agreement over the format of future iterations of the Champions League. Now it appears increasingly unlikely the disagreement will raise its head again for a very long time. For UEFA’s highly successful Champions League is set to become an ever-milkier cash cow for its participant clubs.

The current three-year rights cycle runs to 2015 and negotiations over extensions are under way through the TEAM marketing agency. The tender for England’s territorial rights begins this week.

This is set to produce a bonanza for UEFA and its clubs. Currently the European confederation generates gross commercial revenue from the Champions League and UEFA Super Cup of €1.34 billion a year. Three-quarters is given to clubs but not on the basis of sporting performance alone. UEFA’s clever distribution formula ensures those in the richest territories receive the largest payments from the “market pool”.

This leads to great discrepancies in payments by country. In 2012-13 the market-pool payments shared by Portugal’s SL Benfica, SC Braga and FC Porto was a comparatively pitiable €7.028 million. By contrast Italy, though it had only two participant clubs in AC Milan and Juventus in the Champions League proper after Udinese C’s defeat in the qualifying play-offs, raised a market pool of €81.072 million. In between were Germany (€52.287 million) Spain (€55.256 million), France (€58.889 million) and England (€72.632 million).

France’s income was propelled by the emergence of the Qatar-owned beIN SPORT channel, taking (Qatar-owned) Paris Saint-Germain’s total Champions League prize money to €44.69 million from their run to the quarter-final. Barcelona, for reaching the semi-final, earned less than €900,000 more.

The size of the Italian and French deals were inflated by a common factor: near-exclusivity or exclusivity for their respective broadcasters. BeIN SPORT has made a marketing phenomenon of their UEFA contract. “Vivez 100% de l’UEFA Champions League seulement sur beIN SPORT,” has been its weekly refrain on social-media channels.

Similarly Sky Italia has near-blanket coverage of the top tier of European-club football with the live broadcasts of 111 of the 125 available matches exclusive to its channel. (Provided Italian teams are not involved in the semi-finals or final, that is; in which case Italian tv-listing laws would require them to be made available to terrestrial channels.)

The premium paid by Sky Italia, which facilitated total revenues of €51.357 million for Milan despite their second-round exit and of €65.315 million for quarter-finalists Juventus, should be a matter of interest to UEFA and English clubs in particular. For the unique competitive tension in England could be a price driver like no other.

BT Sport’s entry into the UK pay-tv market has been transformative for the value of the Premier League’s rights. Using what was effectively the marketing budget of its parent company, the privatised former UK-monopoly telecoms utility BT, its bid for English top-flight TV rights drove the League’s revenues for the 2013-16 rights cycle upwards by a 1.7 multiple.

Although Sky won the rights to the lion’s share of live matches, it was forced to pay more to stand still. Now it must go to the well again over Champions League rights.

Currently the free-to-air broadcaster ITV pays about £160 million and the subscription channel Sky about £240 million to share the rights to the Champions League. But it seems highly unlikely, with beIN SPORT setting the precedent for pay-tv exclusivity, that ITV will be able to afford a competitive bid this time around.

With BT Sport playing second fiddle to Sky on the domestic-football scene, some analysts estimate that the impact of its arrival in European-football bidding will be even bigger. Talk of £1 billion for a three-year deal for the UK rights might be extravagant but does not seem grossly outlandish.

That could mean England’s qualifying clubs in the Champions League proper sharing an annual market-pool distribution of more than €180 million, fully 150% more than their current guaranteed takings. With revenues like that, what club would ever seek to break away from the UEFA cornucopia?

Journalist and broadcaster Matt Scott wrote the Digger column for The Guardian newspaper for five years and is now a columnist for Insideworldfootball. Contact him at moc.l1566628976labto1566628976ofdlr1566628976owedi1566628976sni@t1566628976tocs.1566628976ttam1566628976.