I flew over to Monaco earlier this week for Sportel – one of the largest industry events for sports broadcasting, media and marketing rights events out there. The most powerful and influential rights holders and buyers from the world of sports come there every year to exhibit and showcase their portfolios.
Unquestionably, the TV rights revenues play a crucial role in modern football. For most professional football clubs and associations, this is the main source of income – starting usually from 40% of their revenues, and increasing even up to the level of 80%+, as I have seen in some cases. The craziness of the transfer windows, its fees and the entourage of all things that come with it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the TV football revolution that started in early 1990s.
It was also then when Sportel moved from its origin of Colorado Springs to la Principauté and became a must-attend event for the rapidly emerging industry.
Strangely enough, the Premier League is a notable absentee. The league owes so much to broadcasters for making it the most popular domestic football competition in the world and a premium TV product that it is today. The same could be said about the Champions League and other UEFA properties - they also does not exhibit at Sportel. Naturally, they attend Sportel in numbers as delegates but have no desire to have their own showcasing space.
I can only guess what their rationale is. Are they too big? Household names that do not need an introduction? Do they have all rights already tied up for many years to come? Somehow, major US sports organisations in NFL, NBA, and MLB do not share these sentiments…
On the football leagues front, La Liga and German Bundesliga are the leading names at Sportel – competing between each other for attention and prestige. Ever since modern football (soccer) has entered the space of sports entertainment, they do understand that the popularity of one competition eventually comes to an end and leaves a void to fill. A hugely profitable void, in this case.
I would argue that the popularity of products (yes, a football league is a product) usually occurs for two main reasons and even the best-managed brands struggle to halt it:
product exhaustion – it goes out of fashion as consumers are getting tired of the same names and logos over and over (in case you wondered why the Premier League changes their branding before this season…);
product prices/fees – as a victim of its own success, it becomes too expensive to sell/license and potential buyers look elsewhere for better value-for-money instead of joining the bidding race to the bottom.
The Premier League and the Champions League could easily tick off both points. It is not even about “a bubble to burst” or “people finally switching the football off”. The money in sports broadcasting and viewers’ appetite are still there. It’s more about spending that money (for broadcasters to acquire the rights; for fans to pay for TV subscription) elsewhere – where the ROI is higher, costs lower, and product – more fresh.
Just a few final words about another notable absentee at Sportel – the entire eSports sector. For the branch of the entertainment industry that regards itself as a sport, has Olympics aspirations, and already successfully sells to (sports) TV channels, it was surprising to see zero exhibitors promoting their competitions and trying to upsell media/marketing rights to it. Have they missed the trick?