After all other members of the European Big-5 football leagues had locked in new domestic media rights deals during 2018 and will run at least through the 2020/21 season, I started to take a closer look at the German Bundesliga over the past few months: It was the next major football league that was going to throw its domestic broadcasting rights back on the market. Some major talking point that I tackled in the past include:
Eurosport cannot wait to finally move on from the Bundesliga and its annual commitment of €70m to the German top-flight competition after the 2020/21 season while pivoting to sports such as Golf, Cycling, and Olympics in which they can take better advantage of their global footprint and long-term partnerships - compared to facing the risk of either losing or significantly paying-up for their sports rights every three-to-four years: Discovery’s Pivot in to a „Global IP - Company “ in the Entertainment, Sports, and Content ecosystem (Facebook - Post).
Launching back in August 2018, Germany has probably been DAZN’s most successful market up to this point, boosting currently more than one million subscribers, but getting live coverage of the Bundesliga starting with the 2021/22 season will be vital to attract a completely new target group (i.e. mainstream sports fan) and finally increase subscription prices (€12-14/month) to potentially move towards profitability over the next few years: Live Coverage of the Bundesliga will be a Must-Have for DAZN’s Business in Germany (Facebook-Post).
Just like its peers across the English Premier League and Spanish La Liga, league and club officials in Germany tried to publicly push the interest from Big-Tech over the last few months, but why the Bundesliga, in particular, should not bet on Big-Tech which has served as a deflationary force instead of catalysts anyways for the EPL (see: UK) or La Liga (see: India): Big-Tech as Deflationary Force on Sports Media Rights Fees (Blog #35).
Besides Big-Tech, there are a few levers left that can be pulled in order to untap incremental revenues, including near-live highlights, league-operated (additive) OTT services, or emphasizing the second division: Alternative Catalysts for Bundesliga heading into next Media Rights Cycle (Blog #36).
The big question: Can the Bundesliga build upon its eye-popping increase in revenue during the current rights cycle (+ 72.9%), or do we see a similar scenario like in the UK where the EPL suffered a significant market correction in wake of a suspiciously similar one-time explosion in domestic rights fees (+ 67.0%)?
So what’s the news to once again tackle the Bundesliga here? We already knew that the proposed media rights tender was currently under review by the German watchdog. Last week, however, SPONSORs, the leading sports business publication in Germany, provided a first glimpse into some specifics of how the DFL, the body that is operating the first („Bundesliga“) and second („2. Bundesliga“) division in Germany, plans to bring its broadcasting rights for the next four-year cycle (2021/22 - 2024/25) to the market. SPONSORs did a good job in summarizing the key facts and also started to critically assess the implications and consequences for both potential bidders and consumers. Building upon that, I want to provide my ten major takeaways from the proposed media rights tender:
DFL Responsive to Market Feedback by Eliminating „No-Single-Buyer“ - Rule, catering to the interest of both the consumers and rights holders.
Interested in Getting into Business with Digital-Only / -First Players, but not to the extreme like other major sports leagues.
No „Slicing & Dicing“ of Rights, live packages providing a path for all rights holders for effective monetization of consumers and even the potential for a “One-Stop-Shop” instead.
Higher Number of Exclusive Broadcasting Windows across the Weekend as Value Driver, compensating for the elimination of Monday Night Games.
Eurosport Moving on to greener Pastures, but was dealt a bad hand by the DFL from the beginning.
Clear Path for Moving 2. Bundesliga out of the Bundesliga’s Shadow, awarding second-tier division to a dedicated rights holder would be beneficial for everybody involved.
Re-thinking the Value of Non-live Content, making highlights about marketing instead of immediate monetization. (Focus on Package “N”)
Increasing Value of Near-Live Highlights, shorter attention spans of the younger audience are both a curse and a blessing. (Focus on Package “M”)
Game of Supply and Demand, restricting supply while still making all 306x Bundesliga matches available as live broadcasts.
Longer Rights Cycles in Interest of Rights Holders, providing more time for monetization and innovation remains critical in times of skyrocketing rights acquisition costs.
Sky DE as „One-Stop-Shop,“ Single-digit Percentage Increase in Total Rights Fees, DAZN vs. Amazon, and What If?
(Please refer to the SPONSORs article whenever some context is missing.)
1️⃣ DFL Responsive to Market Feedback by Eliminating „No-Single-Buyer“ - Rule, catering to the interest of both the consumers and rights holders.
Overall, the last domestic media rights tender covering four years starting with the 2017/18 season was considered to be a breakthrough success and led to a tremendous catch-up for the Bundesliga to other leading European football leagues. It did not only result in a major increase in annual revenues to €1.16bn per year (+ 73% compared to 2013/14 - 2016/17: €645m p.a. on average paid by Sky DE / ARD / ZDF / Sport1 / Axel Springer AG) but - at least publicly - the successful bidders expressed overall satisfaction with the packaging by the DFL as well.
Interested in additional insights into the current state of the sports broadcasting market in Germany?Amongst other things, my book includes an in-depth case study of the Bundesliga and how the ongoing digitization will impact the segmentation, distribution, as well as monetization of its audiovisual broadcasting rights:
"Auswirkungen der Digitalisierung auf den Sportrechtemarkt in Deutschland"
The book can be purchased as E-Book (PDF) directly on my blog or as Paperback and Kindle-Edition over on Amazon.
Over time, however, both rights holders and consumers started to express some degree of dissatisfaction: Increased fragmentation of live content across multiple platforms (i.e. no “One-Stop-Shop”) or rights packages lacking value to create a relevant product on a stand-alone basis (e.g. Eurosport’s package „A,“ RTL Nitro’s package „N“) became increasingly talked-about discussion points within the industry. The major weakness of the tender process was quickly identified: the “No-Single-Buyers” - Rule. Compared to other European or the U.S. media market, the German pay-TV landscape has traditionally been underdeveloped and the German customers had developed an underlying reluctance to pay additionally for media content across all mediums including video, audio, and written content. The reason: the world’s best-funded public broadcasting service which has been providing end-to-end coverage across television and radio plus a tremendously strong free-TV landscape of commercial, advertising-supported linear television channels. Historically, the Bundesliga was the only sports media property that even allowed a distribution and monetisation of live content behind a pay-wall. In other words, the rights-holder of the Bundesliga was usually the only (sports-centric) pay-TV service in Germany and still marked by consistently unprofitable operations (e.g. Premiere, Arena). Although even the German consumers gets slowly but surely accustomed to the idea of paying for media content thanks to Netflix, Spotify & Co. and Sky DE turned profitable for the first time in FY2015/16 on an EBIT-basis (+/- €5m) while hovering around the break-even point ever since, the market in Germany simply was not ready to support two sports-focused pay-TV services back in 2017. To DFL’s credit, the “No-Single-Buyer” - Rule actually was not part of the initially proposed tender for the current rights cycle (2017-21) either. The German watchdog (“Bundeskartellamt”), however, saw the (inexplicable) need for such measure to ensure competition on the pay-TV market and the rule was added later in the process. It has been obvious that the DFL wanted to respond to the market’s feedback and tried to set the tone early on when it came to the “No-Single-Buyer” - Rule by publicly demising the actual need for such requirement going forward. (see: Twitterpost ⬇️)
After all, even today - when a dual revenue stream of advertising and subscription revenue seems indispensable to profitably refinance acquisition costs for first- and second-tier sports media rights, a comparatively large chunk of live sports remains on free-to-air channels in Germany, and any sports besides the Bundesliga is simply not able to drive subscriptions in a meaningful way beyond the group of respective hardcore fans. Live sports, in particular, has been a significant driver for the adoption of pay-TV outside of Germany while pay-TV penetration remains sluggish around the 20% mark in Bundesliga’s domestic market. Both consumers and potential bidders (read: Sky DE) will keep their fingers crossed that there will not be any last-minute changes again.
2️⃣ Interested in Getting into Business with Digital-Only / -First Players, but not to the extreme like other major sports leagues.
Just like other major sports leagues, the DFL will be tasked with mastering the ongoing disruption of the (sports) media market, mainly driven by the digitisation, new market entrants into the sports broadcasting arena, and over-the-top (OTT) distribution: For reference, having a background in the media industry does not only seem to be a “good-to-have” but “required” prerequisite for any leader of today’s sports operators - as evidenced by the search still ongoing search for the next CEO of the English Premier League. (Blog #37: English Premier League - Is there anything to gain for Scudamore's Successor as the League's CEO?)
The increased relevance of stand-alone pure-sports OTT services (e.g. DAZN, Eleven Sports, Eurosport Player, ESPN+, B/R Live, WatchStadium, FloSports) as well as the likes of Facebook, Google, Amazon & Co. will inevitably mean to get into some form of business relationship with these new digital-only/-first players - and live sports broadcasting rights are simply the most sought-after assets of leagues specifically and the streaming content business in general. Carving-out non-exclusive (e.g. NFL’s Thursday Night Football) or even fully-exclusive (e.g. FA Cup, Premier League) streaming packages has been the approach chosen by many leagues, given the multitude of issues for streaming services when competing directly with legacy media companies for sports rights (e.g. streaming stability issues, exposure/distribution, monetizability). Although there will not a be an exclusive live rights package fully dedicated to only OTT players as observed in other sports leagues (e.g. FA Cup, Premier League), the DFL at least opened up the opportunity for digital-only players to distribute sought-after live content for the first time by reducing the number of distribution systems that must be served by any given rights holder to two out of four technologies (i.e. satellite, cable/IPTV, online-streaming, mobile-streaming). (see: Twitterpost ⬇️)
Given that the “Any Where - Any Time - Any Device” (AWATAD) - approach has been a major selling point of digital-only players, this requirement should be met by every one of them through at least online- and mobile-streaming. At the minimum, the DFL wants to ensure that at least one non-exclusive rights package is going to land with an OTT player given the specific packaging and tender guidelines. OTT players having inevitably access to one major package, however, will probably not be able to serve as a big driver for overall rights fees since no market rate is paid yet for (non-)exclusive digital live streaming rights (see: EPL/Amazon, LaLiga/Facebook, NFL/Amazon).
First and foremost, it will be about gathering first experiences in the OTT live streaming space with a potential major pay-off in the future. Thereby, the DFL rather follows NFL’s (i.e. non-exclusive, complementary distribution) than EPL’s approach (i.e. exclusive distribution), with two big implications: (I) DFL does not take the risk of restricted access (e.g. broadband infrastructure, adoption of digital media) and / or streaming reliability issues (see: current Eurosport Player’s and Sky Ticket’s struggle with Bundesliga) of any digital-only distribution. (II) The ability of non-exclusive live content to serve as a meaningful subscription driver for pure-sports subscription services has to be questioned - which means that the proposed tender might better serve the specific needs of a digital-only bidder á la Amazon who can monetise customers on multiple ways, unlike a pure live video streaming and SVOD subscription service such as DAZN which has a dual revenue stream of subscription and advertising revenue (at best) and highly relies on some exclusivity.
3️⃣ No „Slicing & Dicing“ of Rights, live packages providing a path for all rights holders for effective monetization of consumers and even the potential for a “One-Stop-Shop” instead.
Carving out additional rights packages, either consisting of fewer games or being exclusively dedicated to a specific distribution system (e.g. mobile, web streaming) has often been the default approach for rights owners in their pursuit of incremental revenues. In general, rights owners need a tremendous amount of market power to pull off this approach without facing too much backlash from existing rights holders who understandably fear at least some degree of cannibalization. That is especially true if these additional rights packages are created during an ongoing rights cycle, resulting in rights constellations to which they did not originally sign up for. In other words, only the world’s most popular sports leagues, with which any company that competes in the video content arena would like to be in business with, are able to take that approach (see: MLB ChangeUp on DAZN, granted in 2019 during 2014-21 rights cycle with ESPN, Fox, and Turner; NFL Thursday Night Football on Amazon, originally granted in 2016 to Twitter after CBS/NBC already secured platform-neutral rights for 2016-17 cycle). The DFL. instead, is probably going to take the opposite approach: Consolidating rights packages, both for live and highlights content, to provide potential bidders - regardless of how many packages are acquired - a sufficiently attractive product proposition to make every package even on a stand-alone basis intriguing, if not essential, for the end consumer. This could not be said about the current live package „A“ held by Eurosport which has proven to not be sufficiently indispensable for the mainstream Bundesliga fan - but more on that later.
[Courtesy of SPONSORs]
After all, the DFL seems to acknowledge that it is only reasonable to demand yet another increase in annual media rights fees if it provides respective buyers with a product in which consumers can be interested in. Leagues call the media rights holders „broadcasting PARTNERS“ for a reason. Although Sky DE has remained the primary home of the Bundesliga, it naturally suffered a big hit by not being the “Home to all Bundesliga Games” anymore since the 2017/18 season. Reducing the number of available live packages from five to four combined with the elimination of the “No-Single-Buyer” - Rule will increase both the entry barrier for any pay-TV rights holder on the cost-side (currently at €70m per season) and the probability for having once again a “One-Stop-Shop,” for which Sky DE will most likely be happy to pay a meaningful premium. The negative impact on Sky DE’s value proposition due to the non-exclusivity for selected games should only be minimal: Due to the limited adoption of digital media throughout many demographics in Germany, the cannibalization of Sky DE’s offer through the complementary distribution of some live games would be limited given that these packages would be reserved for an OTT player in case of a “One-Stop-Shop” that provides access through all four distribution systems. Although it should be taken into account that this rights period would be in place until 2025, which is a long time away and even German consumers (and the country’s broadband infrastructure) should be more ready to embrace digital means until then.
4️⃣ Higher Number of Exclusive Broadcasting Windows across the Weekend as Value Driver, compensating for the elimination of Monday Night Games.
As demand for live sports content, which continues to be able to draw large audiences at a specific point in time in front of the television (think: “Appointment TV”) in spite of today’s on-demand culture, grew, some league took advantage of the fact that not all their games had been broadcasted live and in full via national airways and simply added more games to the the inventory that was made available to potential bidders. Among the Big-Five European football leagues, the EPL, in particular, was in the comfortable position to simply increase the supply of games, selling 32x more games per year for the next three-season period (2019-22) compared to the current rights cycle (2016-19). Starting with the 2019/20 season, 200x out of a total of 380x games will be broadcasted live and in full by the likes of Sky Sports UK, BT Sport, and Amazon - even leaving some more levers to pull on the table in the future. Similar developments have been observed across the NBA (1,230x regular season games), NHL (1,271x), and MLB (2,430x), which have much more games per season in general, but have constantly been increasing their supply to broadcasters over recent years.
[Courtesy of SPONSORs]
The Bundesliga has made all of its 306x games per season available as a live and full-game broadcast through its broadcasting partners for a long time though. Eliminating all matches on Monday nights in wake of significant fan protests and rolling up the current package “A” (43x matches across Friday nights, Sundays around noon, and Monday nights plus Promotion/Relegation & Supercup matches) into the remaining four live pay-TV packages would suggest even more compressed, less monetizable match inventory. However, the DFL knows that it is not just about the number of games made available, but - maybe even more importantly - the number of exclusive broadcasting windows because not all broadcasted games are created equally: For example, the monetizability of the 20x Premier League games that were acquired by Amazon for the upcoming rights cycle (2019/20 - 2021/22) - by probably less than £1.5m per game - is far lower than every 20x games that will be shown by Sky Sports (£9.3m per game) or BT Sport (£6.25m per game; also including two complete mid-week match days á 10x live games). Sky Sports and BT Sport - except for the latter’s two just mentioned two exclusive full-schedule mid-week matchdays - never show multiple games at the same time, providing any single broadcast with the most possible exclusivity and exposure in order to maximize football fan’s attention, eyeballs, and ultimately wallet share. Amazon, on the other hand, will have to work with multiple simultaneously-played matches, splitting viewership (and advertising consumption) across multiple broadcasts.
Although the DFL is not going to the extremes like the Spanish LaLiga which has been pushing the envelope when it comes to the staggering of games and plays almost never two games at the same time across Saturdays and Sundays, the German league operator is obviously taking steps to maximize the time of live match coverage. As a result, the Bundesliga, together with the 2. Bundesliga, will certainly demand a much higher share of the fans’ available leisure time across Saturdays and Sundays going forward - starting at 1:30pm on Saturdays. I also think that the DFL was wise to not start games even earlier, which might be beneficial to cater to the Asian market, given that the weekend’s mornings and early afternoons have traditionally been reserved for youth and amateur football. At least with regard to the domestic market, such move would have only had downside risks (e.g. public backlash, lower viewership numbers) as the DFL, in general, faces the challenge of scheduling kick-off times that strike the balance between maximizing rights fees - both domestically and internationally - while maintaining a core broadcasting window with the majority of the games on Saturdays at 3:30pm. Interestingly, that time period falls directly into the black-out window for football games in the world’s second-largest sports media market: the UK. (see: Twitterpost ⬇️)
In this regard, the German top-flight competition actually misses out on the UK market to a much higher degree as the Spanish LaLiga: Bundesliga’s 4-5x games compared to LaLiga’s 1-2x games during the UK black-out window for football broadcasts - and provides clear evidence of the different attitudes between the German and Spanish league offices when it comes to somehow closing the financial gap to the all-dominating EPL. As long as four to five games remain in that window, the Bundesliga will continue to punt on one of the most attractive overseas markets - bowing to the rather traditional fan culture and values of the German football landscape.
Finally, by stretching the matchday more aggressively across the weekend with ultimately up to six broadcast windows (1x Fridays, 2x Saturdays, 2-3x Sundays), the Bundesliga aims at increasing the average viewership of any one of these individual broadcast windows. Keeping the total supply of live broadcasts at all 306x season games, a higher average TV viewership would then directly translate into a higher total audience delivery over the entire season - and the number of total eyeballs should have a direct impact on expected advertising revenues (i.e. bidder’s willingness to pay for Bundesliga rights in the first place). All else equal, there should be a pretty good chance that the Bundesliga can increase the average TV viewership. However, the impact of EPL’s initiatives to increase media rights revenue (i.e. increasing number of live broadcasts) on average TV viewership is less obvious and it will be interesting to see whether Sky Sports and BT Sport can keep last season’s encouraging ratings trend going. An increase in total audience delivery, however, should be a foregone conclusion, probably more than overcompensating for any potential decline in average viewerships. (see: Twitterpost ⬇️)
Such things like adding at least the options for more total ad-revenue-rich live programming across the weekend are little tweaks that do not make the big headlines such as the abolishment of the „No-Single-Buyer“ - Rule but could be vital for the DFL to maximize bids - while remaining more fan- and team-friendly compared to the case of increasing the number of games outside of the weekend.
5️⃣ Eurosport Moving on to greener Pastures, but was dealt by the DFL a bad hand from the beginning.
If you needed one more reason why Eurosport’s four-year endeavor in the Bundesliga was doomed to fail from the beginning, here it is: The package which the DFL was essentially forced to award to Eurosport in order to satisfy the current cycle’s „No-Single-Buyer“ - Rule was eliminated and is now bundled together with the Sunday games. Given the low inherent value of Eurosport’s current package „A,“ it was an easy decision for market-leading Sky DE which package it would be willing to concede to the competition back in 2016: the one, which went for a mere €70m per season to the Discovery-owned pan-European pay-TV operator. After initial plans to go for a carriage agreement with Sky DE which would have ensured a „One-Stop-Shop“ for fans by aggregating both the Sky Sport and Eurosport pay-TV channel on Sky DE’s platform and solid start to the challenge to refinance the rights acquisitions costs thanks to a major guaranteed sublicense fee from Sky DE, both Eurosport’s linear pay-TV channel (Eurosport 2 HD Xtra) and its stand-alone OTT service (Eurosport Player), in particular, never gained any meaningful traction among the mainstream football fan: The inability of the package’s composition to drive subscriptions and its concentration on Friday nights, which is probably the weakest primetime-window across the entire week, as well as the Germans being highly sceptical about any digital-only distribution of live (sports) programming, have been among the contributing factors. Having repeatedly self-inflicted issues on the technical side with its Eurosport Player only confirmed the consumer’s negative bias towards OTT live streaming from the beginning. (see: Twitterpost ⬇️)
After all, I do not expect Eurosport to seriously bid again. That does not mean that they will not look into the tender and even submit an offer, but since getting a great bargain for any live games seems more than unlikely with DAZN and Amazon also at the table, I do not think Eurosport will remain a holder of live or highlights rights beyond the 2020/21 season - regardless of the future plans of its partnership with commercial broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1 and their combined streaming service “JOYN” that will also include the Eurosport Player. In general, more parties than somebody might expect will look into and even bid for the Bundesliga - which is simply by far the most relevant and valuable sports media property in Germany and any association with the top-flight football league offers much more benefits than the expected increasing subscription and / or advertising revenues, including spill-over effects on other programming, improved image, or increased brand awareness. Regardless of any discussion about the „sports media rights bubble“, the fact is that premium live sports remains the most resistant programming genre within the secular trend of declining linear television viewerships. However, it will ultimately come down to the expected frontrunners (i.e. Sky DE, DAZN, Amazon) and I do not believe in any major surprises - more on that later.
Coming back to the rights segmentation, greatly upgrading the „least valuable“ live package has not only increased the entry barrier for rights holders significantly which will probably see the paid rights fee for this particular rights package (probably package „C“ which consist of 32x „first pick“ - choices for any given weekend’s Saturday games) at least triple compared to the €70m per season that Eurosport is currently paying, but will also present a much tougher decision for Sky DE this time around: Which games would Sky DE (or the primary rights holder for this matter) be willing to skip entirely or have only on a non-exclusive basis? Even a subscription-based offering with only the Saturday’s top game at its core (and not much beyond that) would immediately have much more relevance than what the Eurosport Player is currently offering - assuming that you are not a giant tennis aficionado.
The Discovery-owned pay-TV operator, for its part, also effectively admitted the failure when it comes to the Bundesliga: Although Discovery is not willing to leave the European sports rights market entirely, the company’s executives repeatedly hinted at a strategic pivot away from single-territory, short-term rights commitments (2-4 years) towards multi-territory, long-term partnerships in sports. Instead of facing the risk of losing broadcasting rights or at least the prospects of greatly increasing acquisition costs every other year given the short-term nature of rights periods required by competitive laws in many cases, it prefers to focus its time and resources on long-term, multi-territory, if not global, broadcasting rights on a platform-neutral basis (think: linear, digital, mobile): Recent deals of that nature with the PGA Tour ($2bn/12 years; 2019-30) and Olympics (€1.3bn/6 years; 2018-24) underline the company’s vision to become a global player with exclusive rights to a comprehensive sports and entertainment content library. I shared my thoughts on Discovery’s vision for becoming a “global IP company” (think: sub-licensing its content to streaming platforms with similarly global operations such as Amazon, Apple, or Netflix) in a recent post on Facebook: Discovery’s Pivot in to a „Global IP - Company “ in the Entertainment, Sports, and Content Ecosystem.
6️⃣ Clear Path for Moving 2. Bundesliga out of the Bundesliga’s Shadow, awarding second-tier division to a dedicated rights holder would be beneficial for everybody involved.
Already at the end of last year, I dedicated almost an entire blog post to the question why a „laissez-faire“ - market approach instead of trying to artificially create competition in the short-term when it comes sports media rights (Blog #33 - Status Quo of Media Rights in European Football: Can we do better than No-Single-Buyer Rule?) would have been the much more sustainable and healthy approach for the German (sports) media market: Viable competition (here: Eurosport) for market incumbents (here: Sky DE) simply cannot be created out of anywhere just because one of such contenders gets awarded a little piece of a valuable sports media property (here: Bundesliga). Ultimately, the regulatory intervention achieved exactly the opposite of what it intended: a less consumer-friendly product for four long seasons and a similarly consolidated / less dispersed market without a serious competitor for Sky DE at the end of the rights cycle. Understandably, the DFL wants to abolish the „No-Single-Buyers“ - Rule, exactly what I said back in December of last year. However, I also tried to answer the question I raised at the same time: Can we do better than the „No-Single-Buyers“ - Rule? Yes, we can. I suggested splitting up the first and second division between different rights holders. The benefits of granting exclusive broadcasting rights of a country’s second division to a sports media company that does not hold any rights to the first division would be twofold: First, the importance of the second division to the right holder’s top- and bottom-line would probably increase greatly and would inevitably result in much more visibility and resources within the rights holder’s overall programming and editorial strategy. Second, it could be an opportunity to build up a viable challenger for any incumbent holders of first-tier rights in the future, who are not ready for primetime just yet. Eurosport’s current endeavor in the Bundesliga, however, has just been the latest example of a long history that has shown that carving out small rights packages and granting them to unproven market players to simply satisfy the “No-Single-Buyer” - Rule (e.g. Setanta UK’s 46 EPL games in 2007-10; ESPN UK’s 23 EPL games in 2010-13) has not worked out for all parties involved - except for further reinforcing the uber-dominant position of one market leader like Sky Sport in the UK. Instead, let new or less-established market entrants move up the ladder from long-tail (think: second division) to premium rights (think: first division) instead of putting the burden of immediately refinancing extremely expensive first-tier rights on them while lacking any brand awareness, profitable operations, and sufficiently-attractive content libraries to drive a significant amount subscriptions. By bundling the first and second division together, the reality is that second divisions will always remain in the shadow of the top-flight domestic leagues. Although that should be common knowledge, both entities have been living under the same umbrella, not only in Germany (Sky DE) but across the European Big-Five: LaLiga 1|2|3 (Telefónica), EFL (Sky Sports UK), Serie B (DAZN), and Ligue 2 (beIN Sports & Canal Plus).
Therefore, I really like that the DFL offers a clear path with package „F“ to my proposed scenario of decoupling both divisions. Specifically, I would keep on eye on Deutsche Telekom. The integrated business model of the telecommunication company could provide additional benefits for the 2. Bundesliga: Normally, second divisions are not really made for pay-TV due to its limited ability to drive subscriptions beyond a core target group that mostly consists of fans whose favorite team is playing in the respective league. In this regard, the 2. Bundesliga actually benefits from being bundled together with the Bundesliga under Sky DE’s tiering of its subscription packages. In other words, anyone who wants to have access to the Bundesliga, has automatically to pay for and has access to all 306x matches of the second division as well. However, the main objective of telcos such as Deutsche Telekom is to provide additional incentives in form of differentiated content to become a Telekom-customer for its complete set of telecommunication services, not just a subscriber of its stand-alone OTT service (here: Magenta Sport) to consume the aforementioned content. That also means that consumers who are already Telekom-customers could get free access to the 2. Bundesliga (at least for a limited time) which would greatly increase the access to and, therefore, visibility of the 2. Bundesliga. Second-tier sports media properties always face the inherent risk of losing relevance by living behind a paywall and these leagues have shown no willingness to trade revenues for increased free-to-air coverage in recent years. Deutsche Telekom is already taking a similar approach with the third football division in Germany („3. Liga“), paying about €16-20m per season in order to use this exclusive content as a gateway into its ecosystem of broadband, telephone, television, and mobile services for potential customers. Acquiring the 2. Bundesliga would be the aforementioned „moving up the ladder“ of future Sky DE challengers and would meaningfully improve the value proposition of the telco’s sports rights portfolio - currently consisting of the German top-flight leagues in Basketball („easyCredit Basketball Bundesliga“) and Ice Hockey („Deutsche Eishockey Liga“) in addition to 3. Liga. Also, there are much more Telekom customers in Germany than Sky Sport or DAZN subscriber. In other words, much more people could immediately have access to the 2. Bundesliga.
One potential downside for the clubs from the 2. Bundesliga would be that their counterparts from the first division could demand a higher share of total media rights revenues in wake of a clearer delineation between both divisions. Currently, the DFL operates under an 80/20 - split when it comes to distributing TV revenue between both divisions - by far the most equalitarian approach among the European Big-Five. A more merit-based distribution formula or simply the amount to what the successful bid for package „F“ amounts to would certainly be to the detriment of 2. Bundesliga teams (in terms of pure short-term economics) compared to the current setting. I went into more detail of the dynamics between the first and second divisions in the UK, Spain, Italy, France, and Germany in the following blog post: Blog #33 - Status Quo of Media Rights in European Football: Can we do better than No-Single-Buyer Rule?
After all, the 2. Bundesliga would trade short-term revenues against more visibility, access. and relevance - benefits that might need a little bit longer to materialize into incremental income.
7️⃣ Re-thinking the Value of Non-live Content, making highlights about marketing instead of immediate monetization. (Focus on Package “N”)
In my e-book covering the impact of the digitization on the sports rights market in Germany, I also tackled more fundamental aspects of the sports broadcasting market, including the so-called “Sports-Media-Industrial Complex”: the close, systematized, and symbiotic-like network of relationships between (I) sports teams, league operators, and organizations; (II) the media; and (III) the advertising industry and sponsors. For decades, this construct was built around the live experience of sports, either in-stadium or at-home as (appointment) television. In order to protect the value of any live content, rights owners have been exceedingly protective of any highlight footage to give fans no incentive to skip the stadium visit or live television broadcast. Given that non-live highlight content also provided more inventory with a lot of potential to be monetised, rights owners have simply lacked any incentive to increase access to its product by widely distributing such content for free - at least when short-term thinking / revenue maximization dominated in the league offices. However, the ongoing digitisation has brought tremendous changes to the cost of creating and distribution short-form content on the one side, and to fans’ media consumption habits (e.g. shorter attention spans, mobile devices) on the other side. In the case of the Bundesliga, prioritizing short-term monetisation has, amongst other things, led to the circumstance that any free-to-air highlight content which might have been used by teams drive engagement across their online channel has been locked-up until at least the middle of the week - a point in time when most of the excitement, joy, or grieve of last weekend’s matchday has already faded away. In today’s attention economy, in which numerous players vie for the same consumers and their finite number of hours as well as mind and wallet share, the mainstream relevance of the Bundesliga product throughout the week has certainly been suppressed due to the highly restricted availability and activation of video footage.
In this regard, many industry observers have praised the NBA for its “laissez-faire” - approach when it comes to their highlight content, even when used by non-rights-holding third-party publishers (think: House of Highlights). Although general wisdom starts to acknowledge that highlights beyond a very limited window immediately after the actual games (i.e. non-near-live highlights) should rather be leveraged for marketing purposes (e.g. driving relevance, engagement, and virality) instead of maximising (short-term) revenues, almost no other sports rights owner has adopted a similarly liberal approach to highlight content like the NBA up to this point. Despite overwhelming praise from almost everybody for the NBA using such content as the top of the marketing funnel to facilitate an initial connection with its brand, and converting consumers to subscribers or customers down the road, short-term incentives continue to dominate decision-makers’ thinking. It shows what the priorities (or the incentive structure for executives) of most of the leagues continue to be: People are driven by short-term results.
[Courtesy of SPONSORs]
In its proposed media rights tender, however, the DFL has clearly started to redefine the purpose of this „non-near-live content“ (Package „N“) compared to the current rights cycle. Instead of exclusively granting free-to-air highlight content to different rights holders at different points in time until Tuesday, the DFL intends to not only award that content on a non-exclusive, on-demand basis to up to three different freely-accessible bidders but also starting an entire day earlier (i.e. Monday midnight). In my opinion, it should be of less importance whether this re-defined package „N“ will garner more revenue through rights fees than what RTL Nitro is currently paying for the exclusive free-to-air highlight rights on Mondays. Instead, the Bundesliga and the individual teams, in particular, will be the big winners as it will enable them to dominate the public (sports) discussion even more at the beginning of the week. Besides, I think that the re-defined package „N“ will exceed the rights fee of the current version hold by RTL Nitro as media entities will understand the changed value proposition of on-demand highlights with rather long lead / embargo times as they evolve more and more into a commodity - at least in terms of monetization potential via short-term advertising revenues, which have probably been relatively limited for RTL Nitro to begin with. Further, a real brand association between the Bundesliga and the linear niche television channel RTL Nitro never really developed either and its weekly highlight show has not really become a destination for consuming Bundesliga content when looking at television ratings. It was only logical to eliminate said highlight package in its current form.
8️⃣ Increasing Value of Near-Live Highlights, shorter attention spans of the younger audience are both a curse and a blessing. (Focus on Package “M”)
Related to this “Highlights-Industrial Complex” in sports, a potential problem for media and entertainment entities and, therefore, ultimately league operators might be whether highlights, GIFs, and memes become enough for the modern football fan? Regardless of the answer, the implication should be that the demand and, as a result, the value of near-live highlights (either in-games or immediately after the final whistle) should continue to increase over the next view years. With this in mind, the differentiation that is proposed by the DFL between “on-demand, non-near-live highlights” (package “N”: free-to-air, non-exclusive) and “on-demand, near-live highlights” (package “M”: pay-TV, exclusive) makes a lot of sense given the changing media ecosystem.
The modern football fan’s preference for personalized, snack-able near-live content instead of the entire full-match broadcast provides a challenge for league operators though: How to engage and cater to the needs of younger fans while minimizing any cannibalization of the live audiences from its primary broadcasting partners of the full live matches? The former are simply less likely to watch an entire match and are increasingly more difficult to reach with the traditional linear broadcast. Absent of new, more tailored content formats, they probably would not engage with the league anyways. Therefore, providing near-live / in-match highlights on an isolated basis would be a no-brainer. Since the traditional live audience, however, continues to be much more monetizable, any negative impact on that consumer group could significantly hurt the valuation of live packages. Thus, it is totally understandable to not tender these most-valuable highlight rights to free-to-air video distributors. Eliminating the black-out window of currently 40 minutes after the final whistle is another obvious decision in response to the market’s demands, making package „M“ probably materially more valuable than what DAZN is currently paying for the equivalent rights (+/- €20.0m per season). As a result, reducing or eliminating the black-out period for paywalled highlight content was an easy lever to untap further potential for incremental monetization.
9️⃣ Game of Supply and Demand, restricting supply while still making all 306x Bundesliga matches available as live broadcasts.
Media rights tenders are also a simple equation of supply (= numbers of games made available as live broadcasts) and demand (= media and entertainment company’s demand for live sports programming) - looking for the revenue-maximizing solution. The problem for the Bundesliga as well as all other Big-Five football leagues except for the English Premier League: There is not much wiggle room on the supply side because they have made all of their season games available to their broadcasting partners for years.
The English top-flight league, instead, had the easy lever to pull to simply increase the supply from 168 to 200 games per season as of next season: Although a drop in average price per broadcasted game was widely expected, the continued demand for premium live programming across today’s entertainment, sports, and content ecosystem was assumed to still result in an increase in overall revenues in rights fees (= avg. price per game * number of games available). The fact that many additional factors - such as the above-mentioned nature of competition between potential bidders (here: Sky UK x BT Sport) - will impact the overall outcome though as evidenced by the almost two-digit percentage decline for all live rights combined (-9.6% to £1,548m per season). BT Sport and Amazon, in particular, picked up much of the additional inventory of live games (4x complete matchdays à 10x games) cheaply.
Therefore, the Bundesliga needed to get creative to somehow limit supply and facilitate a more competitive environment without the most obvious parameter at its discretion. Reducing the number of total live packages across which the 306x games plus the NFL RedZone-like conference are divided from five (2017-21) to four (2021-25) has two major implications, which I already partially addressed before: First, market incumbent Sky DE cannot really afford to relinquish even just one package to a competitor on an exclusive basis anymore given the much higher inherent value of every single one of them - enabling an immediately more attractive product proposition than what the Eurosport Player is currently offering, assuming that you are not a giant tennis fan. Further, both DAZN immediately and Amazon in the medium-term future should have a greatly superior multi-sport OTT proposition (i.e. portfolio of other sports rights and / or general entertainment content) than Eurosport in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland - where the latter’s weekly Bundesliga match is mostly complemented by tennis grand slams including the Australian Open, French Open, and US Open. Any of the new live rights packages missing in Sky DE’s future Bundesliga-only subscription offer („Sky Fußball-Bundesliga-Paket“) - currently available for €39.99 per month - would be much harder to swallow for customers compared the weekly Friday night match on Eurosport nowadays. Second, and for similar reasons, new challengers in DAZN and Amazon should be much more incentivized to go more seriously after any of the available live packages - the last chance to pick up a major piece of the premium asset in the German sports media market for the next five long years until the end of the 2024/25 season. Especially looking at DAZN, without (at least non-exclusive) live content from the Bundesliga, it will be difficult to ever become a serious competitor of Sky DE or reach its own subscriber target of roughly 5.0m, as DAZN publicly communicated Sky DE’s subscribership as its own medium-term goal. The top-end of the sports rights portfolio will always be more important to the trajectory of someone’s number of total subscribers, regardless of how much more voluminous the long-tail live programming of DAZN will remain to be compared to Sky DE.
EPL - Live Rights (2019-22): £1,548m (Sky UK, BT Sport & Amazon) across 168 (out of 380; 44%) live games excl. £211.5 per season for highlight rights (BBC)
EPL - Live Rights (2016-19): £1,712m (Sky UK & BT Sport) across 200 (out of 380; 53%) live games excl. £204.0 per season for highlight rights (BBC)
BL - Live Rights (2017-21): €1,003 (Sky DE, Eurosport & ZDF) across 306 (out of 306; 100%) live games excl. €152.0m per season for highlights (ARD, Sport 1, RTL Nitro & DAZN)
With total supply in terms of match inventory fixed at 306x Bundesliga games, the DFL will need to increase demand for its product and the definition, segmentation, and packing has been one of the most important variables to achieve just that. Limiting supply by reducing the number of pay-TV live packages from five to four is both in the interest of DFL (i.e. revenue maximization) and potential bidders (i.e. viable product offering): Primary rights holder can not easily afford to lose out on even just one package (easy with the current package „A“). Should Sky DE once again not be able to leave the negotiation table as the “One-Stop-Shop” - which is probably not the preferred outcome for the DFL as well assuming that their revenue expectations are met - it would be a much bigger hit to the former „Home to all Bundesliga Games“ this time around. After all, DFL’s proposed structure for its next media rights tender can also be seen as a countermovement to the ever-more carve-outs of increasingly smaller and more tightly defined packages observed in other leagues.
🔟 Longer Rights Cycles in Interest of Rights Holders, providing more time for monetization and innovation remains critical in times of skyrocketing rights acquisition costs.
The German top-flight league is the only member of the Big-Five that grants its domestic broadcasting rights for four instead of three years at a time. Longer rights periods offer successful bidders, and new entrants with a rather unproven track-record as a live sports broadcaster in particular, greater opportunity to develop an innovative, attractive product offering, to achieve consumer acceptance, and, ultimately, to capitalize on their investments - assuming potential bidders are able and willing to make the inevitably bigger financial up-front commitment which comes automatically with a longer duration of the agreement. (see: Twitterpost ⬇️)
In general, arguments can be made for both shorter (i.e. increasing rights fees by bringing audiovisual rights back to the market as quick as possible; see: three-year cycles by EPL, Ligue 1 , LaLiga & Serie A) as well as longer cycles (i.e. premium paid by rights holders for locking up audiovisual rights long-term hoping to evolve into a bargain over the second half of the agreement; see: six-to-ten-year cycles by NBA, NFL, MLB & NHL) from the rights owner’s point of view. I think the DFL has found a good balance with its four-year cycles that were first introduced with the start of the 2009/10 season, which also coincided with the emergence of UK-based Sky PLC on the German sports media landscape. Back then, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. started to roll-up pay-TV provider Premiere AG under the Sky-Brand and provided - for the first time - some stability for the German pay-TV landscape. However, it is also true that even four years were not enough for Eurosport to become a premier player in the German football broadcasting arena, but that had probably more to do with the hand the Discovery-owned company was dealt by the DFL in the first place. Its appetite for Bundesliga rights has certainly faded since 2016, but I think any successful bidder for live rights in the upcoming tender will have a better shot to become a viable player for years to come - simply based on what the proposed tender is looking like.
💬 CONCLUSION: Sky DE as „One-Stop-Shop,“ Single-digit Percentage Increase in Total Rights Fees, DAZN vs. Amazon, and What Ff?
⏺Sky DE + DAZN vs. Amazon
Before we got a much better idea of how the DFL wants to package and monetise its audiovisual media rights thanks to SPONSORs, I firmly considered DAZN as the odds-on favourite to replace Eurosport as the secondary live rights holder besides Sky DE, securing a slightly more attractive live package compared to the current one from Eurosport: Having live Bundesliga content would be essential to penetrate the group of German mainstream sports fans it currently lacks, overcoming its inherent disadvantage when it comes to reach due to its digital-only nature, and have cleared the path for finally increasing monthly prices to the €12-to-€14-range. However, I guess that the specifics of the proposed tender were received with cheers by Florian Fritsche, who heads Amazon’s sports operations in Germany, and his colleagues: I expect that Sky DE will do (almost) anything to become a “One-Stop-Shop” for the Bundesliga fan in Germany once again, at least for the top-flight competition. As the league puts more emphasis on incorporating new distribution platforms (e.g. OTT) and content formats (e.g. near-live highlights), there is inherently fragmentation involved through different devices, operating systems, and platforms. However, the league would be wise to limit the fragmentation on the rights holder’s side by enabling „One-Stop-Shop“ for Bundesliga fans in the form of Sky DE - to the consumer’s benefit. Disregarding the fact that DAZN probably does not have the financial means and Amazon simply no track record of similarly splashy moves in its short history of being a player in the sports broadcasting market, I would expect that such „One-Stop-Shop“ offered by anybody other than Sky DE (i.e. DAZN or Amazon) would result in a similar degree of dissatisfaction by fans as if there was still a „No-Single-Buyer“ - Rule in place: People do not like change and would need to get accustomed to a new (digital-only) platform as their main destination for consuming football.
If everything plays out as I predict though, any additional non-exclusive live content seems much more valuable to Amazon than DAZN when looking at their respective business models: For the former, such content acquisitions would be aimed at increasing the stickiness of and engagement across their ecosystems, for which the actual subscription revenue is almost an after-thought. In addition to such incremental subscription revenue, Bundesliga live matches would simply generate one more touchpoint with its user base in areas which - at least at first glance - have nothing to do with its core e-commerce business. However, all these ancillary B2C-services including Kindle, Amazon Music, Prime Video, Amazon Drive, or Alexa have contributed greatly to becoming the world’s dominating online marketplace. For the latter, instead, it is all about driving sign-ups to the subscription-based streaming platform to which exclusivity is vital; especially because Sky DE has the advantage of serving the traditional linear distribution system (satellite & cable/IPTV) which the majority of the German consumers does not seem to be ready yet to move on from into the digital space. Further, league operators will probably want the broadest exposure in the most reliable way possible. Providing maximum reach for leagues means that that digital direct-to-consumer business needs to co-exist with the linear system whilst delivering content that fans want to consume, in places they already are - Sky DE can provide this proposition to rights owners across all existing distribution platforms and out of one hand.
The next DFL rights cycle will not kick in for two more years, but both adoption rates of digital services and streaming stability issues are meaningful challenges for Amazon/DAZN to be considered on par with Sky DE in the eye of DFL and other first-tier rights owners. In this regard, digital-only streaming services are simply not competing on an even playing field with market incumbent Sky DE just yet. But also with regard to DAZN versus Amazon, it does not seem to be a level playing between both business models when you look at the average customer lifetime values, which naturally would afford Amazon to spend more on any investments in customer acquisition / content costs. This disadvantage for DAZN is greatly reinforced by the non-exclusive nature of any Bundesliga live content with which both of them could end up.
Interestingly, Amazon seemingly wanted to follow a similar blueprint in Germany as observed for its entry into the sports media market in the UK: Using a tennis grand slam tournament as launching pad to quickly follow-up with first-tier football broadcasting rights. Last year, Amazon successfully secured the exclusive media rights to the US Open for the next four editions (+/- $7.0m per year) in the UK - and subsequently beefed up its budding portfolio of exclusive tennis rights (e.g. WTA World Tour & ATP Tour) - before making the big splash with the Premier League shortly thereafter. However, a similar strategy to acquire exclusive media rights to Wimbledon in Germany, Austria and Switzerland for the next four-year cycle (2019-22) failed to materialize for the e-commerce giant. The flagship tournament of the tennis world will remain exclusively on Sky DE for the next four years instead, paying about €4.0m (+60%) per year.
Nonetheless, it provided just more evidence that Amazon has zeroed-in on Germany as its second sports media market in Europe to disrupt. Unsurprisingly, UK and Germany are the two markets that boost the largest national subscriberships across Europe - offering the most potential for immediate monetization (instead of focusing on user acquisition in the first place through exclusive live video programming). Against this backdrop, acquiring the digital audio rights for the Bundesliga during the current rights cycle (2017-21) or the rights to the four-part documentary series covering second-placed Borussia Dortmund during the 2018/19 season are small, strategic steps by Amazon to build trust and a business relationship with the league and clubs ahead of the next rights period. (see: Twitterpost ⬇️)
In case of a successful Bundesliga bid by the Seattle-based e-commerce giant and given its „costumer-centricity,“ I do also expect that both the EPL in the UK as well as any potential Bundesliga matches in the future will simply be part of the existing Amazon Prime or the stand-alone Prime Video (e.g. €7.99/month in Germany) offering, without any additional costs for existing subscribers to one of these two services.
⏺Prediction for Total Media Rights Revenue
Overall, I do not think that we will have a market correction as seen in the UK, a market which went just ahead of itself in 2015 and where the fierce competitor who is challenging the market dominance in the sports broadcasting market of Sky UK was missing during its most recent tender in wake of the strategic pivot of BT Sport: Going forward, the British company will at achieving a differentiated value proposition in order to drive sign-ups to its telecommunication services through the theme of „connectivity“ (think: building a „super aggregator“ of third-party content services such as Sky UK, Netflix, and Spotify - facilitated by improved broadband quality thanks to 5G-technology) rather than vast amount of exclusive live sports programming . Nonetheless, the London-based BT Group will probably not be completely out of the content business, including exclusive live sports programming, to differentiate its service bundle but will be more focused in its sports rights acquisitions: extending a few core, must-have assets (e.g. EPL, UEFA Champions League), cutting costs by relinquishing some assets over the next few years that do not drive subscriptions significantly (e.g. Bundesliga, Ligue 1), optimizing costs by partnering with free-to-air sublicensees (e.g. combined bid for UEFA Champions League with BBC or ITV), and acquisition of more diverse sports content to attract a broader audience (e.g. WWE).
(For a more in-depth look into the current ongoings at BT Sport, check out David Hellier’s piece from last week: „Is English Champions League Triumph as Good as It Gets for BT Sport?“)
Instead, I see a slight single-digit increase (+/- 5-10%) for the Bundesliga - which would confirm my hypothesis of the ongoing convergence of domestic media rights revenues across the European Big-Five. Sky DE will finally be able to offer all 306x Bundesliga matches again, although on a non-exclusive basis. Since I do expect Amazon to get at least one non-exclusive live package \ and I do not see the DFL further increasing the fragmentation of its live content across more than two subscription-based services (max. 1x digital-only), DAZN could really be the odd man out here. A final note on the trade-off between revenue maximization and free-to-air live coverage of any premium sports content: There has been some major backlash in Germany, both by fans and teams, against the exclusive coverage of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europe on subscription-based services only (i.e. Sky DE & DAZN) - even any of the match-ups with participation of German teams or last weekend’s UCL Final have not made it onto free-to-air airways. (see: Twitterpost ⬇️)
Except for a potential sublicence deal for individual games in the future, for which both Sky DE and DAZN have a veto right, both fans (understandably) and team officials (hypocritically) will complain about this rights constellation for at least the next two years through the 2020/21 season. For example, such potential sublicence agreement with public broadcaster ZDF for this year’s final fell through due to DAZN’s opposition. (see: Twitterpost ⬇️)
To not draw further criticism from noisy minorities (i.e. casual Bundesliga fans), the DFL has been wise to keep at least the number of live games that will be made available to free-TV constant compared to the current rights cycle (package „E“). However, there is even a path for 32x additional games of the 2. Bundesliga games on free-to-air channels. It shows that the DFL officials have understood many points I made in the above-mentioned blog post of mine (Blog #33 - Status Quo of Media Rights in European Football: Can we do better than No-Single-Buyer Rule?): The second division, just like any lower-tier sports entity is in much more dire need of any additional / free access and visibility than the Bundesliga.
Although I do not expect that to be the case, but not being able to further grow media rights revenues domestically could have wide-ranging implications: Media rights revenues from international markets (+/- €220-250m per season) are already (or still, depending on your outlook for the future of the Bundesliga) significantly lower compared to the EPL, LaLiga, and even Serie A and is not that big of a contributor to the league’s top-line today. Given that I think that international revenues will become the true differentiator between the haves and have-nots of global football, that is not the best situation for the Bundesliga to begin with and the reason why the Bundesliga really relies on its revenue generation in its domestic market to keep up with its European peers With stalling revenue growth domestically, the league and / or teams could put the discussion about more drastic changes back on the agenda, including the low ticket prices or the so-called “50+1 Rule”: Most German clubs are at least majority-owned by their fans. Whereas these traditional values can certainly be leveraged publicly to the league’s benefit (e.g. Bundesliga’s official slogan: “Football as it’s meant to be.”), German football risks being left behind even further when it comes to pure economics and, subsequently, mediocrity on the pitch. Any decrease in domestic media rights revenue for the upcoming cycle could provide new fuel for discussions about these self-imposed limitations such as the “50+1 Rule” which generally prevents any majority ownership of teams by a private company or investor. Thankfully, there should be at least a slight increase.
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