HomeNewsMediaFootballGlobal

Infront retains SPFL international rights contract with particular focus on digital

Scott Arfield of Rangers battles with James Forrest of Celtic during the Ladbrokes Premiership match (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

International media rights to the Scottish Premiership will continue to be sold by Infront until the end of the 2024-25 season after the agency today announced a new five-year agreement with the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL).

Having gone to market in April by issuing its request for proposals from 2020-21 onwards, the SPFL has now awarded the rights to Infront, allowing the agency to negotiate new deals with broadcasters at the Sportel trade fair next week.

Along with the top-tier Scottish Premiership, the exclusive agreement also includes the rights to the Championship, League One and League Two competitions, plus the Scottish League Cup and Challenge Cup.

The new contract also includes investment from Infront in a “wide-ranging digital and content strategy to enhance the global exposure of the SPFL” as the agency sees the potential in developing the international popularity of the property.

In August 2018, Infront was named as the SPFL’s international rights distributor in a two-year commission-based agreement and following the termination of the rights deal with the MP & Silva agency.

SportBusiness understands that the new agreement does include a minimum guarantee (and revenue share over and above that).

MP & Silva came on board as in 2013 as the SPFL announced a ten-year deal with the agency for rights outside the European Union. That agreement was thought to be worth £2m (€2.31m/$2.58m) per year, and MP & Silva also went on to acquire rights in Europe (excluding the UK and Ireland) from pay-TV broadcaster Sky.

However, the media rights industry is currently feeling the pinch and many of the other offers proposed to the SPFL for the 2020-21 to 2024-25 cycle were on a commission basis only.

SportBusiness understands that betting streaming rights are not included in Infront’s new five-year contract. The IMG agency is the incumbent betting-rights holder and Sportradar, one of its rivals in that space, was one of the agencies challenging Infront in the recent tender process for the international rights.

Infront was appointed last year by the SPFL to sell its rights in ‘dark markets’ and went on to reach agreements with broadcasters in a handful of markets, such as China (China Sports Media’s K-Ball) and Russia (Match TV). The league said in April that their broadcast rights had been distributed in 130 territories.

Infront, which established an office in the UK around 12 months ago, will look to iX.co, its new digital and media solutions company, to develop the SPFL’s coverage digitally. The unit was unveiled in May as the Infront group’s in-house digital services were brought together with the New York-based Omnigon.

Given that the SPFL rights can be difficult to sell in smaller international markets, the agency will be looking to develop digital solutions to ensure exposure for the league. One such option could be a league direct-to-consumer OTT service, a path trodden by many rights-holders and agencies (although often hard to effectively monetise).

The iX.co operation will be able to look at improvements to the SPFL’s digital offering, such as automated short-form content, near-live clips and data infographics.

Any agency distributing the international rights to the SPFL is, however, faced with the industry peculiarity of leading clubs Celtic and Rangers showing their matches – including those sold around the world to broadcasters in the media rights package – on their in-house digital club channels internationally (on a pay-per-view or subscription basis).

Commenting on the new agreement, Stephan Herth, Infront’s senior vice-president of football, said: “The extension of our partnership with the SPFL underlines our intentions from the outset 12 months ago. Namely that we discussed taking the league to a new level on the international stage – and we have delivered on that. This longer agreement allows us to build on that foundation and ensure that audiences continue to grow.”

Neil Doncaster, the SPFL’s chief executive added: “Infront’s appointment ahead of the 2018-19 season delivered real value for the SPFL and, after a thorough tender process, it made strong commercial sense to extend our agreement for a further five years.

“Infront’s remit now includes digital and content strategy, underlining our belief that they are ideally placed to help grow the popularity of Scottish football globally, which in turn will drive incomes for Scottish clubs.”