Barney Francis was among the 10 executives whose work in 2018 we believe indicates the direction of the sports business in 2019 and beyond.
Sport was once famously the battering ram for Sky. These days it is more like its rudder, helping Sky navigate the choppy seas of disintermediation, cord-cutting, online piracy and teenage attention deficit syndrome. The fact that the broadcaster is doing that so smoothly is in large measure down to its brilliant sports team, led by managing director Barney Francis.
The standout Sky deal of 2018 was its renewal of the rights to the Premier League – the main driver of the business since day one – at a chunky discount to the value of the previous deal. Sky consolidated its grip on domestic football by renewing exclusive deals with the English Football League and Scottish Professional Football League. It also heads into 2019 with long-term deals in place for Formula One motor racing and England cricket.
Sky’s dogged resistance in the rights market led its main rival in the UK, BT Sport, to realise it would never unseat Sky, paving the way for a rapprochement between the two broadcasters which has enabled Sky to cut costs but maintain its number one position.
There is a reason why beIN Sports, DAZN, Facebook and Amazon have stayed out of the market for premium sports rights in the UK: the enduring excellence of Sky Sports.
The success of Sky Sports is not down to acquisitions alone. The broadcaster has long set the standard in content delivery. It is at the forefront of experimenting with new technologies, from HD to VR, and unerring in knowing when to bin them, as it did with 3D.
Live has always been at the heart of Sky’s output, but shoulder programming, like Monday Night Football’s passionate and astute analysis from former players Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, has developed into water-cooler content that sets the agenda in the UK for the week’s football conversations.