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The Scudamore years | Media rights sales

Scudamore’s former media advisor Phil Lines argues that his old boss could be directly credited with creating a formal tender process for the selling of the league’s rights and for professionalising the way it took them to market – a sharp change from the legendary days when deals for the league tended to be scribbled on the back of restaurant napkins.

“I think that one of the things the Premier League always had going for it in his time, and my time there, is that it always had a reputation for being absolutely squeaky clean and running a structured rights sales process – and let’s face it, that is pretty rare in football.”

Lines maintains that this helped to maintain cordial relations with broadcasters – even when they lost out in auctions – although a former representative of a rival European league who does not wish to be named says it would be wrong to suggest Scudamore didn’t upset some partners along the way. He has heard media companies, particularly overseas, tell of how they struggled to develop longterm relationships with the Premier League during the chief executive’s reign because of his ruthless propensity to overlook any sense of loyalty and favour the highest bidder in many media negotiations.

“I think they [the Premier League] used every possible tool they had to bring the economic value to the best possible level,” he says. “Fox in the US were really disappointed when the Premier League moved to NBC Universal. It was the same in the early years when ESPN Star Sports in Asia drove the growth in Asia really dramatically and then were left out because someone bid more.”

There appears to be broader agreement that the boldest and best media decision the Premier League took during the Scudamore era was to bring the selling of its international rights in-house in 2004 – a decision which has been vindicated by the incredible increases in the values of those rights since.

Source: SportBusiness Media

Lines says he counselled Scudamore to take the rights in-house but his former boss can be credited with backing his advisor and sticking to the course.

“I’m not going to name the agency but there was one that twice made us very large offers for world rights and twice he looked at me and said: ‘do you think we could do better?’ I said yes and twice he backed me,” he remembers. “There’s not many guys in his position who would turn down offers the size of which were offered to us – and that would have been one cheque, just take the cheque and bank it and move on.”

Scudamore would tell sister title SportBusiness Media in 2010 that the decision was the one he was most proud of in his tenure up to that date because it allowed the Premier League to develop a more nuanced relationship with and understanding of the specific needs of its wholesale clients.

The approach went hand in hand with Lines’ decision to set up the league’s production arm, Premier League Productions, with the help of IMG in 2003, which enabled the league to take control of its brand overseas and allowed emerging telcos to bid for the rights without having to worry about production. “They tried to build up early the right ground for the next developments on the technology side and on the infrastructure side,” says the unnamed source from a rival league.

“They built up the international channel, for example, to react to the telco situation. Now they have the achievement to bring in for the first time one of the big internet players with Amazon so they always tried to bring in at an early stage the new generation of media and we should never forget that it’s very unusual in comparison to other leagues.”

But the Premier League’s record on international sales wasn’t blemish-free under Scudamore. One former Premier League chief executive, who does not wish to be named, says the deal the league signed for its Chinese rights with the Super Sports Media Group (SSMG) agency for six seasons, from 2013-14 to 2018-19, worth $18m per season, went down badly with clubs. The deal represented only a small increase on the league’s previous $16m-per-season deal in China and tied the Premier League into a long-term agreement just at the point the Chinese market was beginning to rise. The notion that the league had not extracted the maximum value for the rights was reinforced when SSMG subsequently agreed season-by-season digital rights deals with LeSports, Sina Sports and Tencent, each worth $18m each.

“There was resistance to the China deal from the big clubs – that was a landmark moment. That was actually the formation of the big six. I don’t think it was a value issue, I think it was an oddity,” the source says.

“I think the reaction was ‘we know values in China are going up, but who knows how quickly they are going up in a rising market in a country that is extraordinarily exciting, why on earth are we selling too early?’ That’s when the cracks appeared in terms of the big six because that’s when six voted against and I think the six started meeting among themselves.”

Yet, the same source does not think the latest agreement to give a greater share of international rights revenue to the bigger clubs represents an overzealous attempt to redress the balance and placate the big six. “It was a compromise that was necessary to keep things together and it was an 18-2 vote so the majority were happy with what was done.”

Part 2: Sponsorship

Part 3: International expansion and the 39th game

Part 4: Match attendances and the fan

Part 5: Scudamore’s successor

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