Analysis - Battle starts for football rights.

Amid the wailing and gnashing of teeth surrounding the BBC’s loss of Premiership football rights, the online part of the deal slipped through the net almost unnoticed.

Amid the wailing and gnashing of teeth surrounding the BBC’s loss of

Premiership football rights, the online part of the deal slipped through

the net almost unnoticed.



The deal takes effect from the 2001-2 season and clubs themselves will

have the rights to broadcast their own games, either on the internet or

via an in-house TV channel, following a time-delay after the end of each

match.



Also, as part of the #1.1 billion three-year broadcasting rights package,

BSkyB has paid #22.5 million to supply interactive services, which it will

run on a revenue-sharing basis with the Premier League.



”We’ve paid #7.5m a year as a demonstration of good faith and a minimum

guarantee of shared revenues,” says a spokesman for the broadcaster.



”This will allow us to provide wrap-around services during live games,

such as live betting and e-commerce.”



Mobile phone and video-on-demand rights will be negotiated as

sub-licences.



Discussions for such rights have not started yet.



The Premier League will also have its own central web site, which will

host a showcase programme with highlights clips up to three minutes long,

once each weekend’s fixtures have been completed.



”Unlike the broadcasting of live games, there are no tried-and-tested

track records when it comes to the internet,” says Premier League

spokesman Mike Lee. ”Should it be run on a joint-venture basis, or pure

contract style? Or should it be in the style of a broadcasting

relationship?”



The League has sent out a tender document, asking interested parties to

submit their thoughts and ideas on the subject, along with an indication

of what they think the rights are worth.



BSkyB’s acquisition of Sports Internet Group seems to have been planned

with this scenario in mind and might explain why the broadcaster is paying

what many see as an inflated price of more than #250m for it. The group

consists of four separate divisions, which will give BSkyB access to vital

online content.



The Sports Internet Group comprises Planetfootball.com, which creates and

hosts club web sites; Opta, which provides official statistical analysis

for the Premier League; Surrey Group, which runs online and offline sports

betting services; and Sports E-tail, which provides online merchandise

sales.



Merrill Lynch media analyst Paul Sullivan believes the acquisition will

take Sky where it should have been a couple of years ago. ”It’s their

stated plan to become the number one online sports property and this deal

will take them a long way towards it,” he says. ”The cross-promotional

opportunities are vast and it’s something that someone like CBS is very

good at in the US.”



Sullivan believes that, having paid so much for broadcast rights, the

online deal will be a drop in the ocean for BSkyB, which would not be the

case for other potential bidders like sportal and Football365. ”It’s a

problem for the smaller groups, which is why in the long-term further

consolidation in the marketplace is likely,” he says.



Everyone is very cagey about the exact details of the Premier League site

tender process, as they have signed confidentiality agreements. But

negotiations could be drawn out and complicated. The Premiership was set

to produce its own web site last year, but it was knocked back by some of

the club chairmen. Some of them see an aggregated site as competitive to

their own.



Ntl is also setting a high priority on sport online. It has media

partnerships with Leicester City and Glasgow Rangers that include rights

to develop internet and e-commerce services - despite the fact that

Leicester is currently under contract to Sports Internet Group. Other

clubs in which ntl holds a stake that also have contracts with Sports

Internet, such as Aston Villa, Newcastle and Leeds, may follow suit.



Ntl also recently won the rights to set up a joint venture portal for all

72 Football League clubs, in a rights deal worth #65m over five years.



All the clubs will share in the profits.



Will Robson, head of corporate affairs at ntl subsidiary Premium TV,

denies that his organisation is trying to muscle in on media rights by

taking stakes in clubs.



”The deals with clubs are totally distinct from the collective deals,” he

says. ”A lot of people are trying to put them together, but they’re simply

good business decisions. At the end of the day football is good

content.”



He doesn’t, however, rule out the possibility of building relationships

with online specialists. ”If there’s great content out there in the

future, there is plenty of potential for partnerships - but there’s

nothing on the table at present,” he says.



Clubs, broadcasters and governing bodies are all jockeying for

position.



But this is a game for heavyweight players, with significant resources,

not those that fall at the first group stage like Kevin Keegan’s England.