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Cost of Premier League rights seasons could top £5 billion

With the outcome of Friday’s Premier League rights auction unknown, there’s no doubt that Sky is facing the greatest competitive challenge in the tournament’s 23-year history.

With the outcome of Friday’s Premier League rights auction unknown, there’s no doubt that Sky is facing the greatest competitive challenge in the tournament’s 23-year history. Based on analysis of past inflation rates, a three-season deal could hit the £5 billion mark for the first time as BT goes in hard against its main rival. With sport a loss leader for both major players, is such a price realistic?

Ampere’s analysis of the average base inflation at key stages of the Premier League’s live rights auction history reveals an increase in value per game of 55 per cent to 65 per cent with each round of bidding. Taking a slightly lower figure of 50 per cent, one game would cost £9.8 million, with the total season of 168 matches valued at £1.6 billion. A three season deal would hit £4.9 billion.

Guy Bisson (pictured), research director, said: “In the world of European sport, the Premier League is the ultimate luxury brand. As such, it is hardly surprising that there is a disconnect between price and direct value. Looking at the increases in fees paid at past auctions for the live rights for the Premier League gives some indication of where we can expect the price per match to be. However, as we’ve seen recently in the art world, prices paid at auction have a habit of surpassing even the most bullish of predictions. And like fine art, some would argue the Premier League was priceless.”

Making the numbers work
Sport is already a low margin product for Sky and BT. For Sky it drives subscriptions to basic and premium TV, HD and Over-the-Top services where the real margins are made, as well as its broadband and telephony services. For BT the strategy has been about shoring up its line rental, telephony and broadband products where it has been facing aggressive ­ and highly successful ­ competition from Sky for a number of years.

For every TV customer, Sky spends £125 on sports, of which £89 goes to the Premier League; by comparison BT spends £209 per TV customer a year on the Premier League ­ a whopping 134 per cent more than Sky. These numbers are also reflected in the difference in the annual ARPU: Sky’s is currently £576 BT’s is £391.

What Sky and BT can afford to spend ­ and what they might have to
Ampere has pegged a most likely upper increase in cost at a 50 per cent inflation in the cost of live rights per game, meaning the next auction would raise just over £1.64 billion a season or £4.9 billion for three-year live rights.

If Sky and BT buy the same packages, and bear the same level of costs relative to one another as they do with the current contract, Sky would need to spend £1.24 billion a year, £3.7 billion for a total three-season contract. BT would need to spend £402 million a year, £1.2 billion for the total three-season contract. Based on our calculations, we believe Sky will want to spend around or slightly below £3 billion for its share, leading to a disconnect in price to value. BT will be need to be looking around the £1 billion mark, assuming the pair retain the same packages they have now.

Ampere’s analysis suggests that Sky can spend £3 billion on the Premiere League three-season deal without increasing the spend per TV customer over current levels, but, based on our inflation predictions, it may well need to dig deeper. While these numbers look high, the pot of £3 billion created by future customer growth leaves it just 24 per cent short of the implied inflationary cost. Adding in inflation over the three years means the stretch cost of £3.7 billion does not look completely unrealistic.

Ampere believes that entry of a new party to the bidding process could reduce these costs by around 10 per cent for each party, based on the assumption that a new entrant would risk only one of the seven packages available. How a three-way split would work for football fans is unclear.

Full time: our call on the outcome
Bisson concludes: “Ball skills will be of little use to the executives currently bidding on this season’s Premier League rights renewal. The skills required will be more akin to the steel nerve and cold stare of a Las Vegas card shark.

We think it will be a stretch to cover the costs of the additional games made available this year to reach the projected upper total value for live rights of £5.2 billion to £5.4 billion for the three-year deal. £5 billion is a strong psychological barrier. Although it’s not inconceivable, margins on sport are already very tight, so focus in the Board rooms during the auction will be firmly fixed on maintaining control on costs.

As a result, we expect a more sensible value of between £4.5 billion and £4.9 billion to be reached for the three-year deal, up 50 per cent per game since the least auction. That will take the per season value of the live rights to £1.65 billion, a total increase over the previous deal of 64 per cent. Even in this more modest conclusion, the recent sale of highlights to the BBC will mean that package would still exceed £5 billion at the upper end.”