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Market Mapping

Owen Evans looks at where rights-trading agency giant MP & Silva  sees potential European media growth for the NFL (National Football League), following last month’s five-year distribution deal.

If Dan Cohen, the man responsible for leading MP & Silva’s Americas operation, was thinking twice about working with America’s richest sport, all he had to do was make a quick call home.

His brother, Jason Cohen, is general counsel for the Dallas Cowboys – ‘America’s Team’ – and therefore the go-to legal man for one of the world’s most controversial sports administrators, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Dan Cohen joined MP & Silva from a senior vice-president role at Bloomberg Sports in January. What he found out soon after joining, he says, is that the agency has never thought twice about working with the NFL, as an international media rights distribution deal with the league has been a number-one objective for some time.

“Obviously this deal is personal to me as my brother is already working within the NFL, but aside from the family connection, this is the deal that we always had our eyes on from the start,” Cohen, whose official title at MP & Silva is managing partner and senior vice-president for the Americas, told SportBusiness International.

“Carlo [Pozzali – one of MP & Silva’s three founders] was on this long before I came on the scene. Conversations went from casual to serious a matter of months ago, when we got the impression that there would be a chance to bid. That’s when we started putting our number-one team of researchers on the case to identify what each market could be worth.”

We have seen double-digit growth in a number of European markets like Macedonia, and that is where the NFL is looking to use our local knowledge

The deal, signed last month, will see MP & Silva sell the NFL’s TV and digital rights in 42 European territories for five years, from 2015 to 2019. It is the latest in a long line of similar agreements for the agency with major United States rights-holders, including with the NBA (National Basketball Association) and MLS (Major League Soccer).

The valuation process began in the summer of 2014 and ran into the autumn, before the auction process began. Cohen says MP & Silva was bidding against “all the standard players”, and according to TV Sports Markets, the deal is worth an average of around $6 million per season. The agency will pay about $5 million in the first season, and the fee will increase incrementally by about $500,000 per year after that.

The rights MP & Silva have acquired were previously split between the IMG agency and pay-TV operator Fox International Channels. Pozzali said in the official statement that the potential reach of its deal could be up to “220 million households” across the 42 territories.

“France and Spain are obviously keen markets for us to target due to their size, and we have got a lot of data on how the success of the International Series in London has helped with the demand in those markets in particular,” says Cohen.

“But it is not just about the biggest populations. We have seen double-digit growth in a number of European markets like Macedonia, and that is where the NFL is looking to use our local knowledge.

“Hats off to [previous distribution partner] IMG: the demand is already there as we have seen through a huge uplift in NFL viewership in Europe. But we bought these rights for a longer period as we are looking at this something we can grow over a significant period.”

Growth Potential

Crucially, MP & Silva’s deal excludes some of Europe’s most lucrative territories, where the NFL has signed direct deals, including Germany, Scandinavia and the UK. In the latter, pay-TV operator BSkyB has a five-year deal that runs from 2015 to 2019 and is worth around $50 million.

Italy, however, is one key market included in the deal. In October, Bostonian Jim Pallotta, CEO of football team Roma, said he was planning to use the club’s multi-million dollar stadium, due to open in 2016, to host regular-season NFL games.
Cohen said he supports Pallotta’s plans, which would require the NFL to take the currently London-exclusive International Series further afield: “We are prepared to do whatever is necessary to help grow the game in our markets.

“We can’t control where the NFL takes the International Series in the future, but we know it is always looking to expand, so if it is Italy we would obviously support that.”

Cohen says MP & Silva may seek to sign separate digital content deals rather than bundle them in with TV rights, as has been the case in previous European deals.

“It is up to us to show the NFL how our local knowledge will help grow its sport in Europe,” he adds. “The real bonus for us is the connectivity of fans now. That’s where the NFL’s social media presence can have a major impact.

“We are looking at different ways to promote the rights, and in some cases we will be open to working with third parties and to sign separate digital content deals rather than just put it all into the same media rights package.”

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