Media: All about ... TV sports rights

Broadcasters and advertisers still put a high value on sport.

On the surface, it has been a disappointing summer for British sports viewers. England collapsed at the Fifa World Cup, Andy Murray didn't win Wimbledon and ITV's football coverage was blighted by unscheduled ad breaks and allegations of ticket touting.

Despite its problems, however, the broadcaster did demonstrate sport's ability to deliver large audiences for advertisers - a peak of 20 million viewers tuned in to ITV to watch England's first World Cup match against the USA.

And the excitement isn't over. ITV, which had seemed earlier in the year to have given up the ghost on sports coverage, retained the contract last week to broadcast the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand and the following tournament in England in 2015.

There have been interesting developments elsewhere, too. Ahead of the 2010/11 football season, Sky has acquired the services of housewives' favourite Ben Shephard, previously a resident of the GMTV sofa, to be the host of its football coverage. (The broadcaster had already strengthened its grip on the Premier League by acquiring an extra package of games previously held by ESPN.)

While the jury is out on Shephard's suitability for the role, there is little doubt that Sky is reinforcing its commitment to sports coverage following an Ofcom ruling that it must now supply its content to rival pay-TV companies at a much lower rate.

From October, football will be a mainstay on its new 3D channel, and Sky is already in talks with advertisers about the possibilities that this might offer.

So while every brand is rightly considering its strategy for the 2012 London Olympics, it seems that there are many more short-term opportunities on offer from commercial broadcasters.

1. ITV's capture of the Rugby World Cup rights via the commercial agent IMG was a boost for the broadcaster after losing Formula One coverage to the BBC in 2008. In hindsight, the loss of F1 might be no bad thing as the sport begins to look more contrived than American wrestling and advertisers remain keen to support ITV's coverage of the Champions League football tournament.

However, some in the advertising industry feel that ITV's decision to use the money it saved from losing F1 to buy up the rights to FA Cup games was a mistake as the tournament has lost the unparalleled glory of its heyday.

The Rugby World Cup, however, remains a premium event that will especially attract advertisers from the financial, auto, alcohol and utilities sectors (last time around, in 2007, ITV signed up EDF Energy and Peugeot as sponsors of its coverage).

2. Sky has been buoyed by the Government's decision to ignore a report's recommendation that Ashes cricket coverage should be listed as one of sport's "crown jewels" and moved to a terrestrial channel. Consequently, Sky can now talk up its winter Ashes coverage alongside its exclusive broadcast in September of golf's Ryder Cup.

More immediately, however, Sky is trumpeting its five channels of sport in HD and its coverage of the forthcoming Premier League season - its capture of an extra rights package will allow it to show Monday evening games.

Ford and Gillette are the main sponsors of Sky's football coverage and last week the broadcaster announced that it has signed Carling to put its name to its Scottish Premier League output.

3. ESPN shares coverage of the SPL with Sky (both will show 30 games) and has a package of 23 English Premier League games (reduced from the 46 it showed last season after inheriting a rights package following the collapse of Setanta).

ESPN is building a reputation as the home for followers of more specialist competitions. It offers live action from European football leagues as well as a range of US sports. In a significant development, it has also announced a deal with Sky to share coverage of Aviva Premiership Rugby (previously sponsored by Guinness).

4. Broadcasters such as Channel 5 and Channel 4 are less committed to sport due to budgetary constraints. Channel 5, however, has rights packages for European football games on a club-by-club basis, while C4 is reinvesting in its status as the "terrestrial home of horse-racing". Cricket On Five has also been a success for Channel 5.



- ITV's retention of broadcast rights to the Rugby World Cup is encouraging for the company, especially as the tournament is likely to capture premium advertisers. Neil Johnston, the joint head of buying at OMD, says: "For us and clients, it's as important as the Fifa World Cup. Football has a much broader appeal, but rugby pulls in money from the car, finance, booze and corporate sectors."

- Sky is talking up the start of the new Premier League season and has hired the former GMTV presenter Ben Shephard as it looks to counter the threat from rivals such as BT Vision and Virgin Media. Media agencies are impressed with its advanced offering, including a 3D channel, but some argue that the atmosphere of "golf club chumminess" surrounding its presenters should be modernised.

It remains to be seen if Shephard is the man to achieve this.


- Advertisers have an array of options when it comes to football coverage, but, arguably, because of the size of the audience it will deliver, the 2011 Rugby World Cup will be the most significant sporting event covered on TV since this year's football equivalent. The time difference between the UK and New Zealand, however, may dampen some advertiser appetite.

- Sky, meanwhile, is pushing major events such as this winter's Ashes and September's Ryder Cup. Advertisers are in talks with the broadcaster about creating 3D advertising around the launch of football coverage on its 3D channel in October.


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