The sports broadcasting landscape in the UK has entered a period of significant change. The big commercial players – Sky Sports and BT Sport – have rationalised their spending on rights, as have the public service broadcasters. Amazon entered the world of Premier League broadcasting this year, having won ATP and US Open Tennis rights from Sky. Other digital giants such as Facebook and YouTube are also expected to play in the market but are yet to exclusively purchase any major UK rights. But all now face further competitive threats from sports-focused new entrants such as DAZN and Eleven Sports.

DAZN, part of the Perform group, and founded in 2016, has yet enter the UK market, but has begun to establish itself in markets such as the Germany and Japan. But Eleven Sports, another newcomer, has been active this year in acquiring rights and subscribers in the UK.

Since Eleven Sport’s inception in 2015, the London-based sports broadcaster – owned by Leeds United’s majority owner Andrea Radrizzani (also the founding partner of international sports rights company MP & Silva) – has spent €300m on global sports rights and has amassed over 17 million paying customers across 11 markets, including the USA, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Singapore.

Eleven Sports bids for a foothold in the UK market 

Eleven Sports made headlines this summer following its acquisition of the UK rights for Spanish La Liga football, previously broadcast by Sky Sports, and Italian Serie A football, previously broadcast by BT Sport. It also launched a UK online service with other international football and golf rights, and is currently participating in the bidding process for UFC and NBA rights.

Its online-only service does not require a long-term contract – consumers can purchase annual or monthly passes. It has not yet been able to make deals with incumbent pay-tv players to offer its new sports channel as an add-on to existing subscriptions, so has focused on innovative methods to market itself and distribute its content. These include an agreement to allow fans to stream one game for free each week on Facebook.

Newcomers to the market face some big challenges

New sports broadcasters – even once they have acquired rights – will not find it easy to enter the market will have to address a range of challenges:

  1. Delivering a quality product

Eleven Sports had to apologise for issues with its US PGA coverage earlier this month, Formula One faced teething problems during their launch of its F1 TV and Amazon suspended reviews of its US Open coverage after being flooded with complaints. Consumers accustomed to the current quality of TV sports coverage in the UK have been disappointed with services that have comparatively worse picture and sound quality and, for some, no recording or replay option. While this will improve, a quick fix is unlikely. Amazon will need to find solutions for its challenges before it airs its first Premier League games.

  1. Effective distribution

In the short term, it’s unlikely that new entrants will be welcomed with open arms by the pay-tv platforms. Traditionally, subscriptions to sports content has been bundled with a wider pay-tv package but if new channels are not included in this, they will have to find alternative methods of distribution. This may make them a tough sell to sports fans.

  1. Paying the right price

Sky and BT have made their position clear. They simply aren’t willing to overpay for sports rights. With years of experience, they are in a position to be able to more accurately predict the return on the rights they purchase. New entrants keen to make an impression are arguably more liable to over-pay.

What this new competition means for the UK sports market

  • More fragmentation – sports fans will resent being forced to subscribe to multiple sports services to keep up with their favourite sports.
  • More sports rights inflation – unlike the Premier League rights in the UK, other sports rights could increase in price. BT recently left the bidding process for UFC and NBA, citing spiralling costs as the chief reason
  • A more focused sports strategy from the pay-TV providers – Sky has focused its strategy around the Premier League and other thematic channels, while BT has focussed on European football, Premiership Rugby and boxing
  • More content being aired exclusively over the internet – without a TV channel yet, it’s likely that games such as ‘El Clasico’ will only be available online.