As reported in The Telegraph on 4 January, Amazon held early discussions with the Premier League over bidding in February’s broadcasting rights auction.
Though representatives of the internet giant, which boasts annual revenues of £100bn and has already secured the rights for the ATP World Tour tennis, have since distanced themselves from bidding in the next rights auction due to a lack of data and analytics to drive a Premier League spending splurge, there's a sense of inevitability about their entrance to the football rights fray.
They’re not the only new player looking to make a cameo in the Premier League.
In a statement made to the Independent, a spokesperson from Facebook made plans to break into sports broadcasting perfectly clear. “Sports are inherently social, with the power to build and connect communities around the world. This aligns closely with our mission, and we feel Facebook is a natural home for sports content, including live games.
“We plan to bring fans more live games from a variety of sports in the video tab, and will collaborate closely with our partners to do so in a way that supports their business goals.”
With the Premier League looking to build upon the £5.1bn broadcasting rights deal agreed in 2015, which saw Sky and BT share rights, they’ve made 42 more games available per season taking the total to 200.
These have been split across seven available rights packages – with a full bank holiday programme to be shown live during the 2019-2020 season in a Premier League first – which appears to offer new bidders ample opportunity to dip their toe in the water.
Premier League 2019-22 TV rights - The seven packages available
Package A – 32 matches – Saturday 12.30pm
Package B – 32 matches – Saturday 5.30pm
Package C – 24 matches – Sunday 2pm and 8 matches – Saturday 7.45pm
Package D – 32 matches – Sunday 4.30pm
Package E – 24 matches – Monday 8pm or Friday 7.30pm-8pm, and eight matches – Sunday 2pm
Package F – All 20 matches – from one bank holiday and one midweek fixture programme
But what consequences could tech companies, social media bodies and streaming services moving into sports broadcasting have for pubs in the UK?
The goalposts have moved
Collingwood explained: “It’s helpful to consider what that might look like for pubs but it’s going to be defined by how companies like Amazon Prime, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, can reach scale.
“Increasingly these big tech companies don’t really see social offline groups as their target market and therefore their technology’s not built for it. The technology is built for people watching by themselves on tiny screens – on phones, on tablets. It’s a completely different world and I can’t see that changing any time soon.
“It poses a really interesting challenge for the pub industry over how we keep up with that consumer and device-focused technology – and how we continue to provide something that is better in the pub or in the bar than it is on someone’s phone."
Difficult to predict
Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “It is difficult to predict with any certainty the exact consequences of broadcasters such as Amazon or Facebook entering the live sports marketplace.
“In theory, a wider choice should be a positive for pubs, however, these broadcasters are likely to tailor their streaming services to individuals, rather than pubs.
“An increase in the availability of live streamed sport could be a disrupter for pubs who rely on showing live sports. Many customers enjoy watching live sports in their local pubs because of the exciting communal aspect, seeing it as the next best thing to attending the game. For those customers, there may be little change in their viewing habits but some pubs will be looking at this development cautiously.”
Collingwood concurs on the importance of the “exciting communal aspect”.
“For the most part it’s about experience – bringing people together, serving great beer, looking after them well, serving great food, making sure that you’ve got bigger screens, better-quality sound and screens, and so on.
“That’s the first thing. Whatever happens we have to, as an industry, continue to place an emphasis on how are we delivering a better experience for someone, not just on the screen, but in the pub.”
Tech upgrade could bring extra revenue for pubs
Collingwood added: “We show all of our sport via a satellite, and while that is still how a lot of people watch sport at home on their TV, increasingly people watch sport via an internet connection – we’re not set up for that at the moment.
“The quality of broadband in pubs is not good enough to show HD-quality Premier League football on a big screen. We’re going to have to address that – number one.
“Someone really needs to grab hold of this and say ‘look guys, in 10 years nobody’s going to be watching sport via satellite and if that’s how pubs are doing it than we’re in danger of being left behind’.”
However, keeping up with sports coverage broadcast by new players on the Premier League rights scene may not be be the sole benefit of a broadband upgrade for pubs.
Collingwood explains: “We were asked recently by ITV whether or not any pubs would stream the World Cup on ITV Hub. The reason being that they can then essentially pick up the IP address, know that broadcast is coming from a pub, and then the messages they deliver in advertising or scrolling across the bottom of the screen could be specific to that pub.
“If we are streaming, you can tailor the advertising and the messaging in the first instance to the pub rather than the home but potentially to individual pubs. Pubs could get paid for the adverts that are being shown on their screens.
“I just wonder whether there’s a revenue opportunity in the future where pubs are paid for what they show on their screens – basically brands and advertisers bid for what goes to the Dog & Duck based on their demographic versus the Slug & Lettuce.”
Opportunity for drinks brands to cash in
This isn’t the only way the pub industry could potentially make money as the Premier League rights pot grows.
Collingwood adds: “There’s an extraordinary opportunity for drinks brands, or anyone who currently supplies to the on-trade. If one of these companies does win the rights – let’s say Apple – if they want to charge for it they don’t currently have any relationships with pubs so they’ll have to go to people who currently supply to the on-trade and say ‘we need you to get some commercial deals in place’. That would be extraordinary.
“There’d be a mad state of affairs where pubs would go ‘I want to have an Amazon subscription, a Sky subscription, a Facebook subscription’ – but who’s selling that to them? I can’t imagine Facebook are suddenly going to have 70 sales reps walking around pubs. They could partner up with an alcohol brand, anyone who works with the trade."
Sense of inevitability
“If I were a betting man, I’d say lots of these rights could go to big tech companies but ultimately they’d be served to pubs through existing players – namely BT and Sky – but then I don’t know who it then falls to to upgrade the technology.
“I’m sure these are going to be paid services with Apple, Facebook, etc. If they are, are you, as a consumer, going to want a Netflix subscription, an Amazon subscription, a Facebook subscription, a BT subscription, a Sky subscription? No. There’s nobody who’s going to want that, it means the amount of coverage that is available in someone’s home – per person – would, I’d imagine, diminish.
“You’re going to get a stage where people go ‘well actually I’m just going to have my Sky subscription and then if it’s on Amazon or BT then I’m going to go to the pub and watch it.’
“With regards to rights, whether it’s in this round of Premier League rights coming up or if it’s in three years or six years, a big tech company is going to buy a massive sports deal at some point – the juggernaut is relentless.
“You just have to remember how much cash these people have. As we found in the Panama Papers (leaked documents), Apple has more cash reserves than the UK – so it’s not like they’re sitting around short of a penny. It’s going to happen.”