Why social platforms failed to pick up Premier League rights

Thought Leadership
Campaign recently published this article by our Director of We Are Social Sport, Joe Weston, looking at why Facebook and other tech platforms failed to pick up the Premier League rights. They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it below.

Five of the seven Premier League rights have been sold once again for astronomical figures. But there’s nothing new to see here, folks. It’s BT and Sky again.

For months, reports have circulated that one of the major tech giants – Amazon, Google, Facebook or Netflix – would swoop in to compete, shake things up and make a real statement. But alas, the ambition hasn’t matched the rumours.

I have to admit I wanted to see what was possible if Facebook or Amazon bought it all. After all, Facebook has never shied away from spending money when it sees the strategic importance. $21.8bn (£15.72bn) on WhatsApp? Sure. $2bn on Oculus, not a problem.

It certainly looked like they were gearing up to be serious contenders with senior sports-focused hires and suggestive comments from their global head of sports partnerships Dan Reed, such as “The Premier League is a very important partner of ours. We work with them to help them reach their audience.” But it when push came to shove it seems that the Premier League was a step too far – just like the Indian Premier League cricket was.

It’s not just Facebook that has its eye on sports rights. This week, YouTube’s chief executive said he would ‘love to stream the NFL’ and Twitter, Snapchat and Amazon have secured smaller deals within the sports world for some exclusive rights. So, lots of flirting, lots of eyelash flutters, but no one’s made the big move yet.

Perhaps it’s simply that Sky and BT have too much to lose. Their setups are based on traditional advertising and subscription models. Buy the rights, sign the users, sell the ad space either side. Lose the rights, two revenue streams disappear in an instant.

But I don’t buy that. These Premier League figures aren’t out of reach. If Facebook or Amazon or Google really wanted them, they could afford them in an instant and blow the competition out of the water. Maybe it’s more about the platforms themselves – and this is where it gets interesting.

Is it an operational issue? The Premier League is one of the most passionately watched competitions in world football. That makes it compelling, but bestows a huge amount of responsibility on the owner. Heavy is the head that wears the Premier League crown. Could Facebook, or Google or Amazon deliver these sports to the expectation of the fans? Can you imagine the outcry if the stream lagged? You only need to ask ITV what happens if you miss a crucial moment.

Consider the user experience. How does it sit alongside the existing uses of the platform? Granted, Facebook has its new shiny ‘Watch’ to support, but is this really the place to start experimenting with live sports? Perhaps not. What about in feed? Facebook has spent the last few years telling advertisers that six, four, five and now three seconds is the optimal video length. How does two hours of live football sit alongside that? This seems unlikely to say the least.

Ultimately, I think this comes down to timing. The Premier League rights – the jewels in the crown of the rights world – have perhaps just come around too quickly for the platforms to capitalise on.

But what’s clear is that the sports consumption landscape is shifting. I expect to see these rumours arise in every rights negotiation moving forward. As the next generation continues to cut the TV cords, and traditional viewing figures drop, both the broadcasters and the rights holders are going to be reevaluating traditional TV deals.

Sports and social media are like Kane and Alli – they go perfectly together, and it’s only a matter of time before we see the second screen become the first.