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How crucial are sports rights to media owners?

BT's capture of Premier League rights shows that media owners are still willing to pay a premium to acquire rights to broadcast sports, two media agency heads suggest.

Sean Jefferson: Leader, Mindshare Invention

Sean Jefferson: Leader, Mindshare Invention

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SEAN JEFFERSON - LEADER, MINDSHARE INVENTION

- Why are media owners and platforms so keen to secure sports rights and are they still worth the big premiums they command?

Great sport content allows media owners and platforms to attract fans to spend time and money on their services - pay-TV channels, broadband, phones or all three. If you offer an irresistible portfolio of sports, in high quality and high definition, with innovative production and distribution techniques and technologies, then you have a good recipe for developing a loyal fan base. You lock them in and lock the competition out. And those fans are being chased by advertisers as well as media owners. That's why sport sponsorship is growing globally at 5 per cent a year to $51 billion and why NBC paid $4.38 billion for the next four Olympics. The challenge, of course, is to buy the right sport at the right price and then do the right thing with it. There is no guarantee of success - look at Setanta. But BT, as someone else might say, could be a different ball game.

- What innovations for advertisers would you like to see the new winners of sports rights introduce?

Snackable content whenever you want it. I want to see that tip tackle (Tana Umaga, Keven Mealamu - we shall never forget) or that bosh up the middle from Manu Tuilagi, and I want to see it now. Sky Sports set a very high benchmark. Expect them to raise it. As technologies emerge, there will be tremendous opportunities for more creative and intelligent integration of brands into and around the content that adds real value to all parties.

- When sports rights are fragmented across several commercial broadcasters, will it make sport less of an attractive (ie. more difficult) buy for agencies?

No, the opposite. The greater the choice of channels, outlets and touchpoints, the more precise the targeting can be. It means we can use our planning and buying tools to generate real value for our clients' brands. Of course, Super Bowl moments - when a nation gathers around one event - are rare beasts. That's where understanding the role of the big game on the big screen, and how to inter-connect content on other devices, becomes essential. One example is that passions drive Twitter, and a quarter of people Tweet while watching TV - that's a fast route to connect your brand, through sport, to your consumer.

- How will viewers benefit from BT's investment in sport?

Healthy competition, more choice, innovation, pricing options. What would be really useful for fans is for the media owners - and, indeed, the sponsors - to make a positive impact on the sport. That is, of course, the duty of the rights owner, but is the shared responsibility of anyone investing in the sport. Get more people playing, watching and enjoying a great sport. It could be that BT and the English clubs will achieve just that - once the acrimony of the acronyms (PL v RFU v ERC and so on) calms down, which, of course, it will.

- To what extent will BT's move damage Sky's position as the home of live TV sport?

Impossible to say until we see the nature of BT's sports offering. Sky has tied up the big rights for a few years. So, in itself, this move doesn't damage them. But we've only just kicked off ... enjoy the game.

CHRIS HAYWARD - HEAD OF INVESTMENT, ZENITHOPTIMEDIA

- Why are media owners and platforms so keen to secure sports rights and are they still worth the big premiums they command?

The enthusiasm for sports rights primarily stems from the composition of the audience for sport. That audience will vary accordingly to the sport but, in general, the sports viewer will be atypical to the average TV viewer, tending to be younger, in the majority of cases male and, in certain cases, more upmarket. The question of value is difficult. Competition for rights has increased, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for free-to-view channels to match the power of pay-for-view channels as their power with the rights market is entirely dependent on advertising revenue, while pay-per-view channels have wider revenue resources. It would be hard to justify the cost based on advertising revenues alone.

- What innovations for advertisers would you like to see the new winners of sports rights introduce?

There is certainly the opportunity to expand the number of advertisers involved with a particular sport. For example, there could be a wider use of product placement, or segments such as "plays of the week" introduced that could have individual sponsors. However, there does need to be a considered view about such opportunities. When I've seen sports broadcasts in America, I've sometimes found it difficult to pinpoint which was the main sponsor of a particular event. I don't think it would benefit advertisers if this situation was replicated in the UK.

- When sports rights are fragmented across several commercial broadcasters, will it make sport less of an attractive (ie. more difficult) buy for agencies?

In general, competition is good. The benefit for agencies and advertisers should be that such competition should help to control prices for airtime and sponsorship etc. Sport will be available across several platforms, rather than concentrated into one. The complication for agencies now is that they have to be sure of who is transmitting what, whether such transmissions are exclusive, and what the period for rights is with certain channels. The issue of which event is transmitted when and where has certainly become much more complicated over recent years.

- How will viewers benefit from BT's investment in sport?

This is clearly difficult to say without an intimate knowledge of BT's plans. However, the evidence of recent years suggests that a major investment in a particular sport improves the viewing experience considerably. This is the case not just for football, but there has been a massive advance in the coverage of cricket, golf and rugby. A lot of this progress has stemmed from competition. However, there has to be some concern about confusion among viewers about what is available on which channel, what is free or how much something is to watch.

- To what extent will BT's move damage Sky's position as the home of live TV sport?

I don't think anybody can predict to what extent BT will challenge Sky's dominant position. I think there are a few factors to bear in mind. Setanta and, latterly, ESPN have had rights to first-class football over recent years, so it has not had an exclusive position. Speaking as a viewer, it seems to me that Sky's response to this has been to raise the bar quite significantly in terms of the quality of its coverage. No doubt BT has very deep pockets, but Sky knows the importance of sport within its portfolio and has negotiated very cleverly for its major sporting rights acquisitions. I think the competition between BT and Sky will be very keen and it will be to the benefit of the viewer.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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