Amazon Wins U.K. Broadcast Rights to Premier League

Posted June 7, 2018 9:11 a.m. EDT

LONDON — A generation ago, Sky, then an upstart satellite broadcaster, outbid rivals for the rights to televise the Premier League, a deal that helped turn Britain’s top soccer league into the world’s most popular and that revolutionized the fortunes of the TV service.

Another transformation appears to be underway. Amazon, the online retail giant that has increasingly pushed its way into the world of entertainment, won rights Thursday to broadcast Premier League games in Britain for the first time.

The push by Amazon highlights the seismic shifts happening in the world of broadcast entertainment as deep-pocketed digital outlets compete with traditional broadcasters like NBC, Disney and, in Europe, Sky. The fierce battle between Silicon Valley companies and historically dominant studios and broadcasters extends from developing new shows to broadcasting live sports.

Amazon will share the television rights to the Premier League with two heavyweights in Britain — Sky Sports and BT Sport. Those two broadcasters will televise the vast majority of matches on offer, totaling 180 in all. Those matches will be at timings that will likely garner high levels of viewership.

By contrast, the matches that Amazon will broadcast on its Prime service are relatively minor. In all, it will showcase 20 matches, scheduled at points that are expected to gain relatively low viewing figures.

“We welcome Amazon as an exciting new partner and we know Prime Video will provide an excellent service on which fans can consume the Premier League,” Richard Scudamore, the Premier League’s executive chairman, said in a statement.

In its statement, Amazon said the matches would be included in its Prime membership package, which includes faster delivery and various music and video streaming services. The company has more than 100 million subscribers to Prime around the world, including several million in Britain.

Neither Amazon nor the Premier League said how much the company paid for the rights.

The Premier League deal is the latest example of Amazon’s wide-ranging ambitions. It took over the rights in April to stream Thursday night NFL games from Twitter and expanded its tennis content in November. The Seattle-based company has also sought to develop new scripted entertainment, making headway with shows like “Transparent,” though it still lags behind competitors like Netflix in this regard.

It is not alone in its push into live sports: Facebook made a major bid last year to broadcast cricket matches from the Indian Premier League and has streamed Major League Baseball games, while Twitter has streamed baseball and professional hockey games.

The transformation of the broadcast landscape mirrors one a quarter-century ago. Sky was only three years old in 1992 when it bid more than 300 million pounds, or $415 million at current exchange rates, for the rights to televise live top-flight soccer matches in Britain. At the time, the move stunned the world of soccer and gave Sky an identity. The huge influx of cash — several times what had previously been paid for equivalent rights — helped Premier League clubs lure top players from all over the world.

Digital media companies have long proclaimed an interest in sports rights, but they have largely failed to enter competitive bids for marquee properties. And while sports leagues are eager to increase the number of bidders, they have shown a reluctance to turn over rights wholesale to digital partners, preferring instead to craft deals that include digital streaming on top of traditional TV broadcasting.

But the format of the Premier League’s auction makes it easier for digital media companies to compete. While most large rights packages in the United States are for seven seasons or more, the Premier League offers only three-season blocks, lowering the get-in cost. The 200 Premier League games on offer were also split into seven packages of 32 or 20 games each, making it easier for Amazon to dip a toe in the water, albeit in a smaller market than the United States.

The revenue for the Premier League rights in Britain is supplemented by income from broadcast deals elsewhere, including in the United States, where NBC televises the matches, and in China, where the digital broadcaster PPTV holds the rights.