After Apple’s purchase of MLS streaming rights in the US, the tech giant is rumored to be interested in acquiring rights to the Premier League in the United Kingdom. While most pundits don’t expect Apple to be more than a partial player in any deal, don’t put anything past Apple to shake things up in the British soccer TV market.
First Premier League bidding process in UK since 2018
Current television and streaming rights to the Premier League in the UK are set to expire at the end of the 2024/25 season. The auction is set to begin later this year. In reality, it’s the first bidding process for the rights since 2018. Even though domestic Premier League rights are up for grabs every three years in the UK, the current term was a “gift” to those who won the bidding in 2018 as those rights were renewed in the light of Covid for an additional three-year term.
The original 2018 bidding process saw three packages of rights sold to Sky Sports (128 matches); BT Sport (52 matches); and Amazon (20 matches).
A different game compared to MLS rights
To really put things in perspective, Sky Sports paid $4.8 billion for their three-year/128 matches per season deal for the United Kingdom only. While Apple did dish out $2.5 billion for MLS rights, it was for every single match over a 10-year period in a global deal. While acquiring rights in the United Kingdom is a lot more expensive, there’s a lot less risk. Prior to Covid, rights’ prices have had a skyrocketing upward trajectory:
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A friendlier landscape for Apple
As of today, no less than eight Premier League clubs have a majority or 100% ownership by American investors: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Liverpool and Manchester United. The American owners have made it very clear that increased revenue from TV/streaming rights is necessary to recoup their investments.
They have also not shied away from pointing to the NFL and other American sports’ structures as a way to approach the Premier League. The clash of cultures aside, this group of investors would likely embrace Apple as not only a small player but the major player. And lets not forget that Apple, as of the latest fiscal quarter, is sitting on close to $50 billion in cash.
A new era for the Premier League is coming
Sky Sports has been a partner of the Premier League since its official inception in 1992. It’s difficult to see a TV landscape without them being involved but anything is possible in this tech era.
BT Sport, a current holder of 52 matches per season, will no longer exist in the very near future – at least in name. BT Sport was bought out by yet another US-based company, Warner Bros and will merge its content with another Warner owned sports service, EuroSport. The channel(s) will be distributed via Discovery+.
So it becomes a question of how much interest Warner has in bidding for Premier League rights. Warner Bros-Discovery in the US are the new rights holders of the men’s and women’s US National teams. So Apple certainly will not have an easy time in any bidding process.
Most pundits expect Apple to, at best, replace Amazon as a small-package rights’ holder but I believe that would only be the fall-back position for Apple.
History may record that Apple’s acquisition of MLS rights in the US was just the precursor to a major shakeup of the UK TV and streaming landscape and a new era for the Premier League.
Photo: IMAGO / photothek
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