By Richard Wanjohi
In a few weeks, the world will has come to a standstill as sport’s biggest extravaganza kicks off in Russia. An estimated 1.2 billion eyeballs will be glued to their screens for the month-long festival of the football game.
Be it at home, the local restaurant or pub, Fan Park or common area screen; a large majority of the audience will catch the matches on TV. While we appreciate the fast-changing media landscape across the world, TV still remains king in attracting and keeping audiences – more so in game of football. Sports events around the world ignite passions and emotions on fans religiously following them. This becomes even more dramatic for live events. In fact, majority of fans would prefer to catch their favorite game or actions live – this with the multi-levels of delivery and platforms – from online streaming to live reporting.
In our parts of the world, the realization of sports broadcast and the impact of TV rights is finally dawning on us. From the sports federations owning different properties and propping them for the various media partners to fans who love their action as and where they need it. With the increasingly affordable mobile devices and connectivity, the power of more than one screen has become a reality sooner rather than later in developing economies such as Africa’s. In this discourse though, I’ll seek to indulge you on some of the major milestones to look out for on TV rights in sports across the history of sport.
History of TV Screening in Sport
To help us understand TV rights, it would be important to understand what it means. TV rights include all copyright and related rights to televise a match or game. This is particularly to broadcasting organizations – media and TV organizations – which pay huge sums of money for the exclusive right to broadcast sports events live.
We’ve heard of one or the other local TV station calling itself the ‘official TV station for the World Cup’ or ‘official broadcast partner for the Olympics’. They usually do this after paying the rights to a third party which usually acquires these from the media partners of respective sports organizations. Historically, sports appeared on TV as early as the 1930s in Europe with a broadcast of the Olympics Games in Germany. Though limited to a small audience of viewers who owned the prized silver screen then, it formed the basis of one of the best commercial aspects to impact sport.
In the US, live screening of TV of college baseball in the same decade. Live sports at a nationwide – coast-to-coast level only came in 1951 with the show of an American Football college game. In this market these two sports disciplines would form a breeding ground for future developments in live sports and its interaction with TV and its varied audiences. The rest of the world and more so Africa would have to wait until the late 1960s and 70s for their first live sports action on TV. This was in the Olympics in 1964 at Tokyo as well as World Cup in England in 1966. Back then, much of TV viewing was handed to the national broadcasters as they would be the only ones with such infrastructure. This would continue up until the 1990s when TV rights would become fully commercialized.
Origins of TV Screening and Commercialization into TV rights
Commercialization of TV rights started in England’s football league when the then Football Association (FA) management unveiled a blueprint for the Future of Football. The document detailed among others to professionalize the soon-to-be Premier League. Broadcasts on satellite and cable TV would be what prompted fast-tracking of the formation of the League with the promise of a bounty of revenue for participating teams.
Though initially targeting football, sale of rights in England would then include cricket and rugby.
In US, the sale of TV rights had been pursued in the 1980s and 90s with major sports bodies in basketball, football and hockey looking to fully commercialize screening. This include major events such as NBA’s All Star Weekend and football’s Super Bowl – one of sports’ biggest event viewed at a single sitting.
Back to England, the best model of TV rights was introduced during the launch of Sky TV which happened in 1991 but had to wait until a year later. In 1992, Sky won a five-year deal to screen live Premier League games at $409.5 million beating BBC (which got the rights to screen highlights, packaged in the Match of the Day format). The third competitor for the TV rights bid, ITV lost out entirely. While ITV may have seemingly looked to have lost out on the local English scene, it did win the rights to UEFA Champions League in 1999.
The developments in England formed a basis for many other sports developments across the continent. It did help both participating clubs and associations to mine major revenues on the TV rights alone. From a fair amount of 10-15%, current estimates put the revenue from TV rights at between 30-40% for clubs across Europe and Americas.
It has been a bone of contention in more advanced sports properties such as US basketball scene where players have engaged in wages and salaries sit-outs due to their perceived exploitation by team owners. The latter have had to work out tough measures to ensure worthy TV earnings, which the former feel a entitled to being the main actors on the court.
Major TV Rights Deals
What are some of the major sports TV rights deals of our day? We’ll review 3 of the biggest sports deals in the world including;
- National Football League (NFL) from the US – this deal is worth $39.6 billion having been signed for a 9-year period. Each year’s worth is $4.5 billion of payments for the four US networks who signed including CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN. Does this give credence to why Super Bowl is what it is? See more details here.
- National Basketball Association (NBA) – US – $24 billion deal signed by ESPN and TNT from 2016 – 2025. This is split at $2.6 billion from the two major US sports networks. See details.
- Premier League – UK – this is worth approx. $ 7 billion where two TV networks Sky and BT signed a 3-year from 2016 – 2019. This is at a $2.3 billion per years’ worth of monies. Perhaps this is the one that most sports fans from this part of the world can identify with. See more details here.
Other major deals include
- Baseball’s $12.2 billion 9-year deal;
- Football’s Italian league’s Serie A $ 3.4 billion 3-year deal; and
- German’s league (Bundesliga) $ 5.5 billion 4-year deal.
World Cup TV Rights
Joining the bandwagon of the TV rights, the world’s biggest game started off by screening the games in 1954. In 1966 the World Cup games were broadcast for the first time to a world audience across all continents. This would continue until the late 1990s and early 2000s when media companies sought to compete for the rights to the 1-month extravaganza.
With the transition of broadcasting from terrestrial and satellite to digital signals, there was a change in consumption of media content even for live sports actions. The World Cup was no exception and the effect has been gradual. In 2018 and for us in Kenya, there will be 2 ways of catching your favorite team at the World Cup – the FTA (free-to-air channels) and pay TV. The FTAs will screen thirty-two (32) games out of the sixty-four (64) – which will all be shown on pay TV. This means your typical football fan may not be able to catch the action on the national broadcasts.
Effects of TV Rights on Sport
The biggest impact of TV rights has been providing alternative revenue channels to both sports federations and clubs. This has been growing phenomenally over the period of twenty years making sports properties some of the most valuable across the world.
Another impact is advancement in the media space. Due to competition to have a unique offering to each of the audiences in the different platforms, this has been a boon in advancements and new technologies in sports coverage.
There is a mixed feeling as to the effects on audiences – where some may argue a wider reach of audiences on the different platforms, others may say a decline in viewers due to reduced terrestrial reach on traditional TV. The jury’s still out there on this.
To some extent, due to the high revenues realized from sale of TV rights, players are now able to command high wages and pay from their respective clubs. While it may border on the obscene to some, the potent of merging brands and media to sell these to audiences above, the pay is well worth it to the participants.
Overall TV rights have ensured that broadcasters and media companies have continually sought to grow their offering. With this it has meant developing partnerships and alliances to capture the best and valued sports properties.
Enjoy your favorite games in the upcoming World Cup from whichever channel it maybe. I’d hope TV rights and the whole space make more sense to you now!