After a seemingly endless wait, the English Premier League rights for the Middle East and North African region have been bought by MP & Silva. The media rights company bagged the rights for the region, for the next three years.
It was widely thought Abu Dhabi Media and Al Jazeera would go into a bidding frenzy for the EPL rights, but it was MP & Silva that came out as the winner.
The company is a leading international media rights company that owns and distributes television media rights for football, as well as a number of other sports. It makes an annual turnover of USD 350 million, and has a track record of successful distributing TV and media rights for sports federations, leagues, clubs and rights holders.
MP & Silva provides more than 10,000 hours of programming to over 200 broadcasters in 215 countries, including FIFA World Cup qualifiers, Gland Slam tennis, motor racing, baseball, boxing and many other sports.
Andrea Radrizzani, group CEO has been at the helm of the company since its foundation, and joined hands with his partner Riccardo Silva, president of the company, to form MP & Silva in 2004.
Radrizzani says with well earned pride, that MP & Silva, grew from a single office in Asia, to 15 offices globally, with four in Asia, one in the Middle East and the rest in Europe and the US.
Speaking about the various media rights the company handles, Radrizzani says: “We are a leader in football rights distribution. We are working with a lot of major leagues besides the Premier League. In the latest tender we have acquired rights for 49 countries for the Premier League. We have the global rights for Serie A, Major League Soccer, and rights for Ligue 1, for almost the entire world, except North America and Middle East, which is owned by Al Jazeera.”
“We distribute rights for Bundesliga in a few markets and we have a different number of national team matches. We have World Cup qualifiers for Italy, Spain etcetera. Along with these we have a lot of different national team rights, we have rights for local AFC qualifiers in the Middle East and Asia, and we have club channels like Arsenal,” continues Radrizzani.
Radrizzani also shared that the company is active in other areas of sport too, according to the region.
It handles baseball rights in North East Asia and Central America, and also shares a very strong partnership with the OCA-the Olympic Council of Asia, based in Kuwait. Radrizzani says MP & Silva is supporting the OCA with the distribution and production for the next tenure. “We’ve done a lot, and we still have a lot to do,” says Radrizzani.
Describing how media rights are acquired, Radrizzani says: “In football, more than any other sport, you have to commit financially to get the rights, because football is really driven by deep financial commitment from media and we are part of this game, and normally this money would go to benefit the high salaries of the players. Unfortunately, we all know this, but that’s the game.”
Once acquired, the company looks at different ways to resell the rights. Radrizzani says in some cases they just resell to broadcasters, exclusively or non-exclusively, whereas other times, they create packages with other rights that the company has.
“We look at the market requirements and opportunities, in other cases, we have the experience also to launch our own channels, like In Indonesia where we are looking at distribution on our own channels.” says Radrizzani.
In the Middle East, the company has been approached by a good number of interested parties. When probed about who these parties were? He says: “The usual suspects for sure. The biggest media company in the region, based in the UAE and Qatar, they could be interested because historically they’ve bought a lot of football rights, but they are not the only company.”
The digital media market is something that Radrizzani is avidly looking into. He thinks that digital media is going to be a massive game changer.
He says: “It is much easier now to reach people in their homes with their computer. There are statistics showing that consumer habits are changing dramatically. I’m not saying it will be a quick change but it’s happening already. Even though we might take a little share of that market, it will be possible to reach more people and with much cheaper conditions. The prices to sell Premier league rights on a computer basis, on IP, would be much more affordable than other channels.”
The company intends to work with as many partners as possible, because it thinks some channels are stronger in one country, but another channel is stronger in another country. Radrizzani thinks there is no need to limit working in an exclusive way, when you can partner with the best in every country.
Moreover, he says MP & Silva is finding a little bit of trouble to get good sources of information and data in the region. “We are analysing, but it’s not an easy territory to find data,” says Radrizzani.
He also did not rule out the possibility of selling separate match rights to different channels, but said it depended on the budgets of different partners on a local level.
Normally, the way media rights are distributed are platform neutral, which means fans can watch games live on TV, as well as watch recaps on-demand, via the Internet. Radrizzani indicated that MP & Silva will concentrate on traditional broadcasters, but will also be talking to digital companies to see what plans and platforms they have for distribution.
He says: “I would expect some interest from the digital side for IPTV and telecom companies, who have the means for potential investment, as well as a customer base where they can reach people anywhere, and they are already billing people on a monthly basis."
“Definitely one of our strategies would be to explore all the opportunities with major telecom providers. I see this picking up all over the world. It is happening in the UK, and in many countries in Asia, why can it not happen here? We have 26 countries and maybe one, with faster development, will make it happen,” continues Radrizzani.
Another interesting point that Radrizzani made was that the company paid less for the English Premier League rights than the last time. He says: “It was still a good price and definitely wasn’t cheap, but it was less than the last time.”
In the past, many broadcasters have not been able to make back the money they paid for the EPL rights; however, Radrizzani is confident that MP & Silva will make its money back.
He says: “It is important for our company to try to split the risk amongst different partners; if we can achieve that then I think we can make the money back, and we will be able to position the company as a good partner for many clients in the region for the future.”
“It might not be our most profitable project, but it will be very strategic for the future of the company in the region. Also I think if we can do a good job with international leagues it is an example to the local leagues to work with them, and make it a little more professional the way local football is distributed. There is no doubt that the most interesting football is local,” continues Rarizzani.
The English Premier League is more of a subscription-based model than an advertisement-based model, and that has traditionally been the case. Radrizzani says it has been proven by different platforms that the Premier League and, most importantly football, are driving subscriptions, and driving ARPU and revenues for broadcasters.
“It is the content with broadcasters that is driving the people to pay for it. The more the entertainment and content is available anywhere and anytime, the more power there is for sport to be the only driver for pay-TV. Sport is the only thing that people want to watch live, and they remember to watch live. You have an appointment every week to sit on the sofa in front of your TV, or go with your friends to a restaurant and watch the game,” says Radrizzani.
He says that for anything else there are millions of options available now. “Movies and TV series can be watched on iTunes through a smartphone, when you are at the station or the airport, where you want, whenever you want, wherever you want. It’s not the same for football.”
Radrizzani believes the EPL is the biggest league in the world. He says: “It’s the best produced league in the world, with the best time slots to watch football, and it’s not only two teams like in other leagues.”
The Middle East was the last region in the world to get the rights for the Premier League, but Radzianni said this was more because the EPL put the rights to the territories in the region for sale later. He says bidding for the rights was very tough.
“I know that the other companies bid less than us, and we had a discussion with the Premier League to work together in this territory. There were four different platforms from the local market, in the tender, but we won the rights,” says Radrizzani.