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Amazon set to face big test in Premier League rights auction

Amazon set to face big test in Premier League rights auction
By Reuters

05/02/2018 at 16:55Updated 05/02/2018 at 17:41

Amazon's sports broadcasting ambitions will be tested this week in a multi-billion pound auction of English Premier League soccer rights, potentially pitting it against Sky and BT.

England's auction for the rights to screen matches including Manchester United and City, Liverpool and Chelsea is one of the biggest money spinners in world sport, with the last three-year domestic package raising to £5.14bn

Broadcasters who have stumped up for the best packages to win viewers and fend off rivals could now face another threat from one of the big U.S. tech groups entering the fray.

Amazon, the world's largest retailer, has moved aggressively into TV to bolster its Amazon Prime membership service, which offers free delivery and content for a flat monthly fee, and the new auction appears to have been structured specifically to attract a digital player for at least a small set of games.

That is likely to force Rupert Murdoch's Sky and Britain's biggest telecoms group BT to increase their offers, but financial and strategic pressures mean analysts do not think they will match previous 70 percent jumps.

"(There is a) very real threat that Amazon will look to take at least some of the UK and later on, international rights," Guy Bisson from the media analyst firm Ampere said ahead of the auction which begins on Friday.

Amazon has also won the rights to some of America's National Football League and ATP tennis matches.

The English auction for the three seasons beginning 2019/20 will make 200 live games available out of the 380 played each season, divided into seven lots, with five packages consisting of 32 games and two packages of 20 games.

One package will include the rights to show a whole round of matches at the same time, an option that could be more attractive to a digital provider than a traditional broadcaster.

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FOOTBALL Television tv camera PA Photos

Sky, present in 13 million homes, had to cut costs, hike prices and drop other sports to afford the last round of rights.

It also has an uncertain future as it is not clear who will own Sky when the 2019 season begins, with Murdoch's 21st Century Fox trying to buy the 61 percent it does not own. Sky could then be sold to Disney if a separate sale of Murdoch's TV and film assets receives the green light.

For BT, investors would be unlikely to welcome a blow-out bid with its shares at five-year lows. It faces other calls on its cash, including investments in ultrafast fibre, pension deficit top-ups and dividend payments.

But the companies have recently agreed a wholesale deal to allow their customers to watch the other service's channels, in an easing of the previous competition in their relationship.

"We continue to see the Premier League content as being an important part of BT Sport but it's only one part of the channel," BT Chief Executive Gavin Patterson said last week.

"We know what it's worth to us, and we model that and we bid up to but no further than the value of it, and we always have a plan B if we do not get the content we want."