Broadcast power plays: Fox/Sky deal faces regulators, beIN Sports gets cash, BT hunts rights

TV cameraman

By Paul Nicholson

March 17 –  It has been a busy week in the sports broadcast market with UK Culture Secretary Karen Bradley referred 21st Century Fox’s £11.7 billion bid for full control of Sky to communications regulator Ofcom and the Competition and Markets Authority – Sky are the Premier League’s dominant TV partner. In France, Qatari owners have pumped in another €600 million into beIN Sports to cope with losses believed to at more than 1 billion.

Both situations will be watched closely by leagues who will not want to see a material change in the commercial marketplaces for two of the biggest rights buyers for their competitions.

The Fox bid for control of Sky has reignited a huge public interest debate in the UK over the influence Rupert Murdoch, who controls Fox, has over UK media. Murdoch, already owns 39% of Sky but was blocked from buying the remaining shares in 2011 by the phone-hacking scandal that rocked Murdoch’s British newspapers and exposed his direct influence on the country’s leading politicians.

A succession of scandals, including the disgraceful cover-ups surrounding the Hillsborough disaster, have left the country with a deep suspicion of the former Australian turned US-citizen Murdoch’s motivation and manipulation.

Fox’s offer for Sky values the company at $22.7 billion, a good bulk of that value made up of its Premier League rights packages.

While Fox is gung-ho for European sports and the Premier League in particular, the Qatari appetite for the French market may be waning. beIN Sport has invested heavily in rights but has been unable to translate that investment into a profitable revenue stream.

How much appetite they have left will be tested with the up-coming Champions League rights negotiations. The Qataris have reportedly re-organised its French ownership into beIN Europe Limited and has already cut deals with Canal+ and SFR to reduce its exposure to hefty rights payments.

BT tunes up for Scottish deal

Meanwhile, BT Sport looks set to pounce on the Scottish Professional Football League in what could be the league’s biggest-ever broadcast deal. BT and Sky Sports currently pay around £21 million per year to share 60 live SPFL games, while BT also has exclusive rights to the League Cup.

BT Sport now wants exclusivity over Celtic and Rangers games and 60 live Premiership matches and is reported to be prepared to pay more than the record £31 million paid in 2008.

BT has boosted its mid-week football output with Champions League and Europa Cup rights, leaving Sky in the shade. Sky however still dominates weekends with its Premier League coverage.

But BT’s Premier League coverage could have a silver lining for Tinopolis. The Welsh TV production company for BT’s Premier League and Champions League coverage is for sale with a price tag of £300 million.

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