Although athletes have been forced to take an involuntary break from the action on the field for the last couple of months, the world of sports media has been quite eventful. Popular media sports rights have switched owners and Telia & Discovery recently made an agreement that turns the tables for sports content in Sweden. On top of that, the first major league was restarted last weekend.
With practically all professional sports activities (apart from equestrian sports) put on hold this far into the pandemic, interest for sports has not worn off. According to a global survey, conducted by IMI’s NextWave consultancy, 38% of males in the Gen Z/Millennial age groups say watching live sports is what they miss the most during the pandemic, outranking both feeling safe to go outside (31%) and general social interaction (32%). Data from Mediavision’s Nordic Sports Analysis 2019 supports this notion.
While sports events are put on hold, the sports market has been anything but calm. High-ranking media rights have been negotiated and perhaps the most eye-catching agreement is that of Nordic Champions League (CL) rights – ranked as the most popular premium sports right in the region in Mediavision’s Nordic Sports Analysis 2019. CL was recently secured by NENT (DK),TV 2 (NO) and Telia/TV4 Media (FI and SE). This week, Telia demonstrated its commitment to sports even further by securing the rights to the top male football league in Spain, La Liga, until spring 2026.
On Monday May 18th, Telia announced that it will license the standalone OTT rights to Discovery in Finland and Sweden (thereby fulfilling the terms set out by the European Commission regarding Telia’s acquisition of Bonnier Broadcasting/TV4). Dplay will carry TV4 Media/C More’s sports content – likely increasing the attractiveness of Dplay significantly, which is already home to popular sports such as the Swedish major football league Allsvenskan and the Olympic games (both summer and winter). This may turn the tables for Dplay, that is still small in terms of numbers of subscribers compared to its competitors.
As it seems, we will soon see some of the major leagues restarting. Germany’s top male football league Bundesliga was first in returning to the stadiums last weekend, but not without objections from the fans. German TV network ZDF found that 62% of the fans would have preferred to cancel the season entirely, rather than resuming the league under terms set out by the Ministry of Health. Regardless, the matches drew record audiences. For example, NENT reported that the six broadcasted games this weekend attracted on average 40,000 viewers in Denmark, compared to 13,000 for this seasons games played prior to the pandemic. Viewing of the high-profile game between Dortmund and Schalke increased by 400% on Viaplay in the Nordics, compared to the corresponding game last fall.
In the Nordics, dates for the return of all top leagues for football has been set, apart for Swedish Allsvenskan. Norwegian Eliteserien is set for 16th of June, Danish Superliga for 28th of May and Finnish Tipsligan (Veikkausliiga) for 1st of July. In Sweden, negotiations have been heated. Last Friday, the Ministry of Health disapproved the proposed starting date and postponed the decision of a new date further. Hopefully, a decision will be made next week.
Cancelled or postponed games of course have severe financial consequences for all actors involved in this industry. Rightsholders will neither pay full price for paused seasons, nor for games lacking the usual atmosphere as spectators are not allowed in the stadiums. The majority of rightsholders have lowered their prices on premium sports subscriptions, causing substantial revenue loss. As leagues are beginning to restart, and money transfers from rightsholders are reinstated, prices of packages may soon be back to original – but not yet. So far, TV 2 Norway has announced that the regular pricing will not apply until when Premier League is played.