Eleven’s Radrizzani urges sport to 'democratise' broadcast rights models
By Susan Lingeswaran
Andrea Radrizzani, chairman and founder of Eleven Sports, the international subscription broadcaster, has called for changes to be made to the distribution model of live sports to match the opportunities that digital platforms are offering.
The Italian media executive's investment vehicle Aser Ventures launched Eleven Sports in 2015 as a new platform available across both linear and over-the-top services with the aim to put sports fans back at the centre of entertainment.
It has operations in Portugal, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, Poland, Taiwan, Japan, Myanmar and USA, and has acquired an array of rights in each of its markets, including top European soccer leagues and club competitions, North America's NBA and NFL, mixed martial art’s UFC and motor racing’s Formula 1.
Speaking during the company's Talking Sport webinar series, Radrizzani said the way live content is being currently distributed was not keeping up with demand and limiting the number of people who can watch.
He said: “There is more demand for football than before, but the rights are stagnant because there is a discrepancy between the demand and the way the content is distributed in terms of pricing, platforms and technology.
“At the moment, soccer can only be enjoyed by an elite group – those that can afford monthly subscriptions as high as $50 per month. This can change, we can create a model that matches the demand and makes it more democratic.”
Radrizzani, whose portfolio includes Leeds United, of English soccer’s second-tier EFL Championship, Whistle Sports, the online sports network and Hellodi, the Italian digital media network, has previously spoken out against high-priced subscription models, positioning Eleven as having competitive pricing and flexible packages compared to its rivals.
Eleven’s monthly all-in subscriptions, which can be cancelled, are designed for fans who want to access all of Eleven’s content while smaller packages and pay-per-view are for those consumers less willing to part with monthly payments.
Radrizzani has been an advocate of customers having greater control of the content they consume and when they consume it - vigourously defending (he eventually backed down) Eleven's right to broadcast matches from Spanish soccer's LaLiga into the UK during the country's ‘blackout’ window, which runs between 2.45pm and 5.15pm on Saturday afternoons, at the beginning of the 2018-19 season.
Incidentally, that blackout has been lifted for the remainder of the English soccer season.
Asked if soccer clubs and league could start to retain their own rights as a way to distribute matches and content to fans in the future to help cut the cost of monthly subscriptions, Radrizzani said while the technology was available to them, until the model changed, they would be reluctant to give up “guaranteed income” or take risks.
The former chief executive of the MP & Silva agency said: “Decisions are led by the clubs and the clubs need money guaranteed and therefore they do not want to take risks – they need guaranteed income to pay their players and their other costs. It’s very difficult to challenge the distribution model in soccer other than add platforms.
“If people can invest and take risk, it will benefit the industry and ecosystem, as well as the fans as it’ll grant them much more access to content without the problem of large monthly fees – it will democratise the model.
“Why can’t Juventus fans from Indonesia or Australia buy the game directly with a micropayment from Ronaldo’s Instagram account – why not? It’s easy to do with the technology we have.”
The EFL has dipped its toe into these waters, with the launch of iFollow, its subscription-based live match streaming service, in 2017 for fans of lower-tier clubs living outside the UK..
A year later it was launched in the UK, giving fans unable to attend fixtures of their favourite team to watch individual games for £10, and to create a new income source for the clubs, which receive 80 per cent of the proceeds.
One way the model could change, Radrizzani predicted, is if private equity firms co-invest in leagues to assume some of the risk, as could soon be the case in his home country, where Serie A is now the subject of interest from nine entities, attracted by the Italian top-flight's media rights sales, which generate around $1.5 billion each season, 60 per cent of total revenue.
With the global health crisis playing havoc with the sporting calendar, rights owners have been concerned over the decreasing value of their rights in the wake of many broadcasters renegotiating their contracts.
However, Radrizzani said while the pandemic will have a short term effect on the value of sports rights, it will be the stagnation of the distribution of them that will devalue it further in the future.
He explained: “Obviously the impact this season has been major with all the games scheduled over a three or four-month period now rearranged in a much shorter period which has had a negative impact on media platforms and broadcasters.
“So this has to be taken into account by leagues and federations so there will be a reflection in the value of the rights. But from next season, as things go back to normal, I think everything should be back to normal.
“I think there is a general decline and stagnation in football and sports rights in any case. That’s not because of a lack of demand, which, in my opinion, is actually increasing, but because of the distribution system which is still focused on pay television and that’s it. So there’s not much competition. So maybe we should reconsider if the right way to sell rights with exclusivity or not.”
In April, Aser added Otro, an online subscription platform backed by some of soccer’s biggest stars past and present, including Lionel Messi, Neymar, Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham, to its investment portfolio.
Otro creates original premium long-form and short-form content with its portfolio of star names, for third party streaming platforms broadcasters, operators and telecoms firms.
That deal came 12 months after Aser bought a stake in Sports Data Labs, a turnkey technology provider for in-game capture, analysis and distribution of real-time human data.
On future investment opportunities, Radrizzani said: “At Aser Ventures we are trying to show for the first time in Europe that an investment platform can create real value for the companies it invests in and their end users.
“We are the only investment platform in Europe investing in sports and media technology or content related businesses in a way where we actively participate in the businesses growth with our management skills and financial support.
“We invest in opportunities where we know the field well. We like to create an ecosystem and find synergies between companies we know well in the same group and find links back to Aser.”