Football broadcasters face competition from new channels and illegal streaming

Authoritative global audience figures for football matches are tricky to calculate and to obtain, however it would certainly appear from the increasing prices being paid for the rights to televised football matches that there is a growing market to satisfy in many countries.

It only takes a glance at twitter or any of the myriad football sites and forums during games and transfer windows to recognise that there is a thriving global community of football addicts all watching football, and taking to the internet to make their thoughts and opinions heard.

The U.S.A. wakes up to football

The U.S.A. – historically somewhat (and willingly?) collectively oblivious to the rest of the world’s favourite sport, has seen a massive increase in football viewership in recent years, most notably for the major European leagues, Major League Soccer, the Champions League and international competitions. A single U.S. broadcaster, ESPN reported an increase in viewers of the Euro 2012 tournament of 183% compared with Euro 2008.

The 2012 Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Chelsea was broadcast live in the U.S.A. by FOX Sports and saw a peak viewership of 2.5 million viewers, only slightly down from the 2011 final which featured the massive international profile of Barcelona and Manchester United and peaked at 2.6 million viewers.
Indeed the last three Champions League finals broadcast on FOX have attracted an average viewership of around 2 million individuals, a massive increase of over 670% in the 10 years from the 2002 final, broadcast on ESPN2 to 264,000 viewers.

Record incomes

Live televised football is big business. In the U.K alone, the recent auction for domestic rights to screen live Premier League matches from 2013-2016 brought in a whopping £3.018bn.
The overseas rights to the Premier League brought in £1.4bn for the period covering 2010-2013, and with the upcoming auction expected to increase that figure, it is a safe bet that total television income for the 20 Premier League clubs will top £5bn for the first time.

With the Premier League clubs looking to bring in measures to ensure that the flow of income to players and agents is stemmed, fans of Premier League clubs can be forgiven for wondering why, in a time of record income for the clubs despite the global economic crisis, ticket prices continue to rise.

Monopolies challenged?

It can be assumed that greater competition between television companies is of benefit to consumers, so it is pleasing that recently in a number of countries we have begun to see some of the incumbent giants of pay-to-watch football being challenged by increased competition from smaller competitors.

In the U.K. several companies have attempted to challenge the super-power of football broadcasting that is BSkyB, with results being less than satisfactory for most of the challengers. British readers will remember the attempts of ITV Digital, Setanta and ESPN to gain a foothold in the market.The ITV Digital mascot
The latest challenger is BT, securing 38 live games a season for the 2013-16 period and it remains to be seen if their service will convince a significant portion of Sky’s 10 million customers and be a success where others have failed.

In the United States, broadcaster NBC is looking to bring the Premier League to a wider audience, gaining the rights to matches by tripling the combined bid of previous rights holders FOX and ESPN, paying in the region of $250m for the three season package.

Challenge from the Middle East

Perhaps the most interesting development in football broadcasting mirrors investment in football clubs such as Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Málaga CF by arriving from the Middle East.

Qatar based Al Jazeera has run sports channels in the Middle East since 2003, but in recent years has aggressively sought to expand it’s presence in established international markets.
Starting in 2011, when it snapped up rights to broadcast a package of Ligue 1 fixtures in France, Al Jazeera launched beIN Sport in France on the 1st of June 2012, in time for the European Championships.

Logo for beIN Sport

beIN Sport challenges existing heavyweights in France and the U.S.A.

Offering two dedicated channels; beIN Sport 1 and beIN Sport 2 as well as beIN Sport MAX (a series of part-time channels that offer different concurrent match options to subscribers), beIN Sport has snapped up French rights to Ligue 1, Ligue 2, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Champions League and Europa League matches (in addition to rights for other sports such as the NBA and NFL).

French broadcaster Canal+, which previously held the rights to many of these leagues is in for a fight.

Canal+ now holds the rights to show only 20% of Ligue 1 matches (beIN Sport 80%), 13 Champions League matches (beIN Sport has 133), none of the Europa League matches (all matches on beIN Sport), 0 La Liga matches, and shares Bundesliga and Serie A matches 50/50 with beIN Sport.

Canal+ currently retains 100% of the rights to televise live Premier League matches, but with the Premier League contract in France soon up for re-auction, it can be assumed that beIN Sport will likely make a bid for this too.

In terms of attracting sports fans, beIN Sport already looks to have gained the upper hand in that it has a larger percentage of most popular sports rights and offers the channels in a dedicated package priced at 11 Euros per month. To gain access to sport televised on Canal+, consumers have to subscribe to the full Canal+ package (containing other channels, for example film channels) priced at 39,90 Euros per month.

beIN Sport has also bought up packages for football in the U.S.A. and Canada.

Internet streaming

One area that broadcasters are facing previously unperceived global competition is through illegal live streams now widely available online – after all it is difficult to compete with free.

With the Premier League alone reporting that it shut down more than 30,000 illegal online streams during the 2011/12 season, only a customary glance at football sites on the internet will allow you to reason that this is a massively expanding area that if unchecked could become a major challenge to traditional broadcasters.

  • How do you watch football in your country?
  • Do you pay for televised sports or do you choose to watch illegal streams online?

We’d be interested to hear your opinions in the comments.

Founder of Proven Quality and a network of Football news aggregator sites, John lives in Spain, and has also lived in France, Germany and the UK. John can be found tweeting under the provenquality handle.
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