Media: All About... Football on television

Sky faces an EC challenge over its Premiership rights, Glen Mutel writes.

When asked what he thought about the amount of football being shown on TV, the late Brian Clough remarked: "I don't want roast beef and Yorkshires every night and twice on Sunday."

During his long and distinguished career in the game, Cloughie had seen the televised football match go from being a monthly novelty to an almost daily phenomenon.

Today, the viewing public is being served up more roast beef and Yorkshires than ever. Sky Sports, the home of the English Premiership, airs 138 top-flight games each year. It shares the FA Cup with the BBC, which also runs two Premiership highlight shows. ITV shows midweek Champions League matches. Even five has got in on the act by covering the Uefa Cup.

But as the new season kicks off, does football generate the same level of excitement it once did? Ever since ITV Digital overpaid for the rights to Football League matches, broadcasters have been slightly more circumspect when bidding - Sky's existing exclusive contract is not only cheaper than its previous deal, but yields the broadcaster more matches per season.

Advertisers also seem to have put football in its proper perspective. They know that an important game in the Champions League will still give them unparalleled access to a selective male audience, but they also know that should British teams exit the competition at an early stage, the remaining games will not deliver.

"People got carried away in the past," John Overend, OPera's joint managing director, says. "All that's happened is realism has returned."

1. Sky has been the home of top-flight football since the birth of the Premiership (then the Premier League) in 1993. Its existing three-year deal runs to 2007 at a cost of £1.024 billion. Its previous deal, which yielded fewer games, was worth £1.1 billion. The BBC shows Premiership highlights.

2. In 2002, Sky also managed to muscle in on the Uefa Champions League with a joint bid with ITV to screen live games between 2003 and 2006. At a combined cost of £84 million per year, the deal was £24 million more expensive than ITV's previous deal. However, by teaming up with Sky, ITV made a considerable saving. A decision on the new deal, for 2006 onwards, is expected imminently.

3. Exclusive, live football has been Sky's key subscriptions driver, helping it to attract 7.8 million customers. While Sky will look to other aspects of its offering to help it reach its target of eight million subscribers, it must retain its football rights to prevent churn.

4. Sky's stranglehold on televised football is under threat from the European Commission, which believes the broadcaster's virtual monopoly on the sport is unhealthy. This week, reports surfaced that the EC will push to prevent Sky from broadcasting more than half of Premiership games after the next contract comes into play in 2007. Last year, the EC forced Sky to put between six and eight Premiership games a season up for sale and agreed a price for these games with the EC commissioner, Mario Monti. However, when the main bidders, ITV and five, refused to meet this asking price, the pitch was abandoned. Even if the EC lets Sky keep its monopoly in the future, the broadcaster will face tough competition for the rights: Telewest and ntl are rumoured to be considering a bid, as are ITV and Ireland's Setanta.

5. The Champions League still delivers for ITV. Last season's final between Liverpool and AC Milan was watched by 14 million viewers (compared with the 17 million who saw Manchester United beat Bayern Munich in 1999). However, the competition still represents a risk - if British teams exit early, the broadcaster is left with expensive ITV2 fodder.

6. Ford has sponsored Sky's football coverage since 1993, renewing the contract several times. Pan-European sponsorship for the Champions League is dealt centrally through the Swiss agency TEAM Marketing. The competition has traditionally had four sponsors but this has been expanded to six. These will include Mastercard, PlayStation, Ford, Heineken, probably Coca-Cola and another as-yet unconfirmed sponsor.

7. At present, Barclays sponsors the Premiership. The deal is thought to have cost the bank more than £50 million for three years. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola is believed to have paid £15 million to sponsor the three lower leagues.



- Football gives advertisers unique access to the type of adult male who, John Overend says, is "normally selective about what he watches".

- Despite the over-supply of televised football, advertisers know big games still deliver impressive audiences.

- When it comes to sponsorship, the clients who put the most into it get the most back. The Red Mandarin director, Ben Wells, says the best recent example is Coca-Cola, which has developed its sponsorship of the lower leagues with impressive local and press activity.


- Ever since ITV's disastrous The Premiership, which attempted to force Premiership highlights on to a primetime, early evening, Saturday audience, broadcasters have been realistic about what to expect. Big matches still perform, but the public's thirst is not inexhaustible.

- Other broadcasters are expected to compete hard with Sky for the next Premiership contract when negotiations begin next spring. The EC will almost certainly force Sky to pass on the rights for some matches to other broadcasters. This lack of exclusivity could affect Sky's sport-led marketing proposition.


- Premiership clubs receive 50 per cent of the £1.024 billion Sky pays for exclusive rights. The next 25 per cent is awarded according to how many live matches each club appears in. The remaining payments are merit-based - the higher a club's league position, the more it receives.

- The aftermath of ITV Digital's collapse showed just how reliant football clubs are on TV revenue. Clubs that fall out of the top flight often struggle to deal with losing this revenue.

- Sky has repeatedly made it clear it intends to drop its price significantly if it is denied exclusive rights from 2007. Premiership clubs should be aware of this potential revenue dip.