Amazon has made its much anticipated move into live sports by snapping up one of two final Premier League rights packages. The Amazon move means a third company is breaking in to take hold of the tournament's UK rights.
Earlier this year Sky Sports and BT Sport split 160 live Premier League matches in a deal worth a combined £4.46bn for three seasons from 2019-20. This was significantly less than the £5.1bn achieved in the previous auction several years earlier.
Notable was the league's failure to sell two final match packages and the absence of the digital streamers like Facebook and Amazon who were rumoured to be interested.
On Thursday morning, The Telegraph broke the news that several months after the initial rights sales that Amazon had indeed stepped in to take the package of 20 games. This means that Amazon is the first streaming-only platform to show Premier League.
The move bolsters Amazon's live sport offering which today is crowned by the exclusive UK rights to the US Open Tennis, in addition to three of the four grand slams via a deal with Eurosport. It also has a hold on the ATP World Tour rights and $130m worth of NFL streaming rights.
Meanwhile BT also secured a further 20 games at a price of cost of £90m, bringing its total for 52 games to £975m over three years. Each season, BT will air 32 Saturday matches and 20 midweek games, many rolling concurrently on the same evening. Sky Sports on the other hand sits comfortably with 128 games.
It appears that the final fees for the two packages sat lower than the initial asking prices.
Andy Haworth, managing director for content and strategy for BT’s Consumer division, said: “We’re delighted to be able to offer our customers even more Premier League matches and to create exciting mid-week nights of top flight Premier League football action.
“The fantastic sport our customers can view continues to grow. Today’s Premier League announcement, and the recent deal with Now TV, means BT TV customers will have access to all of the best exclusively live sporting action in the UK. We look forward to continuing as a partner of the Premier League and showcasing the most exciting league in the world.”
Richard Scudamore, executive chairman for the Premier League, said: "We are extremely pleased that Sky Sports, BT Sport and Amazon have invested in these rights and all view the Premier League and our clubs as vital parts of their live sports offerings.
“We welcome Amazon as an exciting new partner and we know Prime Video will provide an excellent service on which fans can consume the Premier League.”
What does it mean?
Richard Gillis, managing partner at Cake, branded the deal “a moment to note” and said the Premier League will help secure viewers on Amazon's Prime streaming platform.
He said: “The assumption for a long time is that the tech brands will enter the sports market if they are in content. At the end of that road is always live sport because it remains a robust way of delivering audience."
But for Amazon, as big a move as this is, it is just dipping its toes into the Premier League. He said: “The caveat is that it is only streaming a few games but the central point is sport is better at normalising consumer behaviour than anything else. The fact that we may choose to stream Premier League games on Prime, that is a behavior change. Normalising new behaviour is difficult and Amazon has made a big statement."
This is nothing new for the Premier League, the content has always been driving new viewing tech added Gillis. “If you go back, the Premier League has always served to set new viewing behaviour, it was proof of concept for satellite TV in the 90s, then it was proof of concept for mobile content.
“But to do all of that, you need content we all want to watch. It is the content that changes the behaviour. Without top level sport, a lot of silicon valley’s great ideas look like a solution without a problem.”
James Box, audience analyst of sport and entertainment at EntSight said that the UK Premier League audience is actually slightly less likely to engage with online subscription services compared to live broadcast television.
He noted however: "When focussing on the behaviours and preferences of the younger fanbase, we see they are more likely than average to engage with a service such as Amazon Prime Video."
Studying those already paying a premium for the Premier League, he said, fans are "considerably more likely than the average UK consumer to pay for a subscription both on cable/satellite and IPTV, meaning signing up for a new subscription service should be a smooth process for the audience".
He noted that they also more likely than average to already pay for the Amazon Prime video service.
There is a silver lining for Sky said Box. "Our research shows that Sky Go is the only online streaming service that UK Premier League fans are currently more likely to subscribe to, but the big question is: for how much longer? "
Looking at the deal, Joe Weston, director of We Are Social Sport, said: “For months, rumours have circulated that one of the major tech giants – Amazon, Google, Facebook or Netflix – would shake up the Premier League rights battle and make a real statement. And now it seems the first of them is finally ready to throw its hat into the ring.
"The Premier League is the one of the most passionately watched competitions in world football."
However he blamed falling viewing figures for the broadcasters' reluctance to snap up all the rights at a top premium.
"The challenge now for Amazon will be to ensure that it continues to provide the quality of viewing experience which football fans have come to expect. Heavy is the head that wears the Premier League crown, and you only need to ask ITV what happens if you miss a crucial moment.
"It’s clear that the sports consumption landscape is shifting; and as new technologies emerge – such as Facebook’s new Oculus Venue – and the digital landscape continues to evolve, we can only expect to see more from the tech giants as they increasingly move into this very lucrative space."
Octagon execs, Phil Carling, global head of football, and Joel Seymour-Hyde, head of UK, claimed that the result was "no major change in the status quo".
Instead Amazon's move can be interpreted for future auctions. They said: "In a world where content is king, Premier League football in the UK remains the King of content.
The price of the rights was off-putting to some parties by the looks of things. "The £1.8bn estimated cost of the packages is greater than the total content budget for ITV and Channel 4 combined. Seen in this context the rights on offer were prohibitively expensive, especially when even the minor packages would trade at £90m to £100m. The business model for Sky is subscription driven with a 20-year plus legacy and BT adds a suite of services to the basic subscription model. Given that even these players struggled to raise their bids, it is apparent that for the UK on a strictly rational economic basis we are at peak price."
They noted that the rights were also limited by geography, as well as price. Global streaming giants would assumedly prefer as few territorial restrictions as possible.
They said: "The digital giants do of course have massive treasure chests but investing sums, which are disproportionate and strategically unsound in a relatively small market, clearly made no sense in the boardrooms where these investments decisions are made."
For Amazon, the package of 20 games serves as "a suck it and see option" with an immediate benefit from a business perspective. They noted: "It will enhance and differentiate the Amazon Prime subscription offer versus Netflix, and counters YouTube’s live streaming (UEFA Champions League Final) and move into programming content (e.g. Training Days)."
In addition, Amazon has also snapped up near live rights and clips of the league to bolster its content story.
The pair theorised a rejig of the rights in future too, better tailored for bids from tech giants. "In a world where 95% of the fans of the Premier League do not live within the UK, the issue becomes whether The Premier League would ever contemplate marketing its domestic and global rights in a single auction. Under this circumstance it could all get very interesting."
Chase Buckle, senior trends analyst, GlobalWebIndex, contextualised how this will help Amazon get a foot up on Netflix.
He said: "This will be an important step for Amazon in attracting new users in the UK to its video offerings. three in 10 UK Premier League fans already say they use Amazon Prime Video each month, with just over half saying they use Netflix. Six in 10 of these fans are watching sports online on a monthly basis too, so there’s a substantial market for Amazon.
"In its competition with Netflix, original content has been a key focus, but live sports entertainment is where Amazon can really differentiate from Netflix."