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Over the last few days, the Premier League India Twitter handle has been busy posting photos and videos of Bollywood star Ranveer Singh.
No, thankfully, it’s not promoting his movies. The 36-year-old actor is the brand ambassador for the Premier League in India. And the league recently flew him down to the UK, where he attended some of the matches, went on stadium tours, and scored a penalty kick against the Crystal Palace club mascot Pete the Eagle, among other things.
Clearly, the Premier League is really trying to increase its fanbase in India. And the recent renewal of its media rights contract in India explains why it’s so desperate.
Premier League broadcast rights are off the charts. Just not in India
I don’t remember the last time I watched a Premier League match. Because the team I support, Manchester United, is pretty shit right now. Yes, yes, I’m a bad fan, not supporting my team when the times are bad, blah blah. But there are enough depressing things happening in the world for me to voluntarily spend 90 minutes every weekend watching one of the most expensively assembled teams in the world flap around trying to put the ball in the net.
It appears I’m now part of a significant majority of sports-viewing audiences in India who don’t watch English football’s top-flight league.
Earlier this week, it was reported that the Premier League has extended its broadcast deal with Disney-owned Star India for the next three seasons, from 2022 to 2025.
“We are delighted to continue our association with the Premier League and look forward to the collaboration over the next three seasons,” said Sanjog Gupta, head of sports at Disney India, according to a press release. “Our joint efforts have seen viewership for the league grow manifold and we remain committed to widening its popularity as well as deepening the affiliation for its clubs.”
However, if the viewership has indeed grown manifold, that doesn’t seem to be reflected in the value of the new deal. While official figures weren’t revealed, sports news website InsideSport reported that the value of the rights has dropped by 25% from the previous cycle (2019-22). And it’s not the first time this has happened. Over the last three rights cycles, the value has fallen by almost 65%, according to the report.
InsideSport did not report the exact value of the latest broadcast deal, but industry estimates suggest that it’s around US$50-55 million for three years. That’s about US$17-18 million per year.
And that’s peanuts.
If reports are to be believed, the Indian Premier League (the world’s most popular cricket tournament) could get as much as Rs 50,000 crore (US$6.6 billion) for its next five-year rights cycle (2023-2027). That’s US$1.3 billion per year. Star India had bought the current rights cycle (2017-22) for Rs 16,347.5 crore (US$2.5 billion), or US$500 million per year. Yes, the world’s going crazy.
But even if you stick to the Premier League, it was just last November that it signed a six-year deal worth £2 billion (US$2.6 billion) with American broadcaster NBC for the United States market. That’s around US$430 million a year. Which is almost double what the broadcaster paid for the current contract in 2016, according to The Guardian.
And this isn’t an isolated case.
In January, Disney-owned sports network ESPN retained the South American broadcast rights for the Premier League until 2025. While the value of the deal wasn’t disclosed, reports suggest the previous three-year contract was worth US$250 million, or US$83 million per year. In China, iQiyi Sports is reportedly paying around US$360 million for three years, or US$120 million per year. The entire Asian market, including Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Thailand, and Malaysia, reportedly contributed to around US$450 million annually during the 2019-2022 cycle.
In fact, the Premier League’s revenue from international broadcasting deals will break the £10-billion (US$13.2 billion) barrier during the 2022-25 cycle, according to The Times. Clearly, everyone wants a piece of the Premier League.
Everyone except India, that is.
And it all comes down to viewership.
In the US, Premier League matches are getting an average of 609,000 viewers per game, according to The Guardian report quoted earlier. In India, even top Premier League games between heavyweights like Manchester United and Liverpool don’t attract more than 200,000-300,000 concurrent viewers on streaming platform Disney+ Hotstar.
Of course, this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, since it doesn’t include television figures. And concurrent viewership is not the same as average viewership. Unfortunately, my request for Premier League viewership figures from the Broadcast Audience Research Council India, an industry body that tracks and measures television audiences, did not get any response.
But it’s no secret that the Premier League is hardly followed in India outside the tier-1 cities. Here’s what Tareque Laskar, head of research and analytics at ITW Global, a sports, entertainment, and media-focused consultancy, told me:
The ISL, whose final will be held on Sunday, gathers a concurrent viewership of about 500,000-600,000 on average per match on Hotstar. The IPL, meanwhile, is in a different league altogether. During the final of the 2021 edition, peak concurrent viewership touched 7.6 million on the streaming platform.
While India may have close to 800 million people who watch sports (766 million in 2018), the Premier League is way down the pecking order. Football itself is only the fourth-most watched sport on television in the country, after cricket, kabaddi, and wrestling (read: WWE), as of 2019. Football makes up only 3% of the viewership pie, most of which is dominated by ISL.
Just look at the number of Twitter followers the Premier League India account has—56,000—and compare it with ISL’s ~807,000, Pro Kabaddi’s 334,000, WWE India’s 404,000, and IPL’s… wait for it… 7.6 million. It’s going to take a lot more than flying Bollywood stars out to watch matches in the UK for the Premier League to catch up to other leagues in India.
What is surprising, though, is that Disney+ Hotstar is currently charging brands 3X more to advertise during Premier League matches compared with ISL. According to Laskar, the rate for Premier League matches is around Rs 22,000 (US$290) for a 10-second spot, while for ISL it’s about Rs 7,000-8,000 (US$92-105).
“The higher pricing of the Premier League spots suggests they are trying to recover the high costs they have had to pay for the previous seasons,” he said. If the InsideSport report is to be believed, Disney Star paid around US$62-70 million for the 2019-22 cycle and as high as US$82-90 million in 2013-16.
I don’t know how successful this strategy is, considering I’ve hardly seen any ads on Hotstar during the pre-match, halftime, and post-match shows for the Premier League. The streaming platform mostly showcases its movies and series during these shows. “On TV, too, there aren’t too many ads,” said Laskar. “Those are also interspersed with promos of other sporting events.”
This makes you wonder why Disney Star is even holding on to Premier League media rights. But while it may not be a must-have property in India, it’s among the top nice-to-have international sports rights. It’s a good portfolio property, especially if you can squeeze a good bargain.
Star India has held the Premier League rights for many years now, ever since it used to be ESPN Star Sports back in the late nineties and 2000s. In this sense, the Premier League is an outlier among other European football rights properties, which have played a game of musical chairs in India over the last few years.
Spain’s La Liga has gone from Sony Sports to Facebook to Voot; Germany’s Bundesliga went from Star to Fancode to Sony. Italy’s Serie A has gone from Sony to Voot. “It shows that the audience for these properties hasn’t grown much, and no broadcaster wants to touch them. It’s like a fire sale. But the Premier League for Star is a portfolio thing. It’s like an investment or a cost more than anything else,” said Laskar.
This is why Star does not produce any content of its own around the Premier League. It only relays the Premier League’s international programming feed, which is produced by IMG. Disney would rather focus its energies and resources on properties like Indian cricket, which get it advertising dollars. The broadcaster reportedly commanded ad rates of up to Rs 18 lakh (US$23,700) for a 10-second spot during IPL 2021. It earned close to Rs 3,000 crore (US$395 million) from the season.
So, if you’re one of those few people who follow the Premier League from India, enjoy what you’re getting (that is, of course, if your club isn’t Manchester United). But don’t expect a Ted Lasso to come out of India anytime soon.
🔴🔵🏟️ FC Barcelona’s iconic 65-year-old stadium, Camp Nou, is getting a rebrand. It’ll now be called Spotify Camp Nou, after the Swedish music streaming giant signed a reported €280 million (US$307 million) deal to become the Spanish football club’s main sponsor for the next four years. Sounds 🤮, I know, but with the club’s debt of €1.35 billion (US$1.5 billion), beggars can’t be choosers. The Spotify logo will also adorn the jerseys of Barcelona’s men’s and women’s teams. [ESPN]
🔵💰 If you want to buy Chelsea Football Club, 9 pm GMT on Friday is the deadline to submit offers. So far, the interested parties include the Ricketts family, who own the Chicago Cubs baseball team; Sir Martin Broughton, former chairman of Liverpool FC and British Airways; Nick Candy, real-estate developer and lifelong Chelsea supporter; and Aethel Partners, a London-based investment company. [Sky Sports]
🏏📱 India’s fantasy sports market will be worth Rs 1,65,000 crore (US$21.7 billion) by 2025, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 38%, according to a report by industry body Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS) and consultancy Deloitte. The market is currently worth Rs 34,000 crore (US$4.5 billion), with a user base of over 130 million, as per the report. [Mint]
♟️🇮🇳 The 2022 FIDE Chess Olympiad will be held in Chennai later this year, after the governing body was forced to move the event out of Moscow following the Russia-Ukraine war. It will be the first time that the Olympiad will be held in India. [Chess.com]
Tweet/video of the week
Chelsea fans, look away. Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher brought out some of their best punditry on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football show, where they spoke about the sale of Chelsea and what it could mean for football going forward. You can watch the clip here.
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That’s all from this edition of Moneyball. I hope you enjoyed it. Please write to me at [email protected] with any feedback (good or bad) and suggestions for topics to write on.