This week, Amazon made its move into Premier League broadcasting official, becoming the first digital streaming-only platform to enter the market. It will join linear TV regulars Sky and BT in screening 3 seasons, commencing from the 2019/20 campaign through its Prime Video subscription service, which also boasts the rights to show men’s tennis world tour matches as well as Thursday night NFL games, after it opted to purchase one of the two remaining packages from February’s auction. Although the overall value of the Premier League’s domestic rights has plummeted to about £4.65 billion for the period of 2019-2022 from the £5.1bn amassed in 2016, the competition remains illustrious and possesses a compelling global following.
The opportunity to secure a more lucrative package was certainly there for Amazon, but for now it has committed itself only to a relatively small package, with which it will screen ten midweek games in early to mid-December and another ten on Boxing Day. The modest nature of its foray into Premier League broadcasting leads you consider how the rights fit into the broader business model of Amazon and indicates that it is not expecting to monetise the Premier League rights directly, at least or now. Rather, it appears to be an exercise in driving subscribers of Amazon Prime’s platform, through which they could entice more consumers and sell them more products, whilst gathering more data to expand its imperious empire.
As an economic case, the timing of its broadcasting schedule feels significant. Amazon has purposefully opted for its 20 matches to be crammed in around the festive period, which more often than not accounts for such a significant proportion of sales. In his column for The Times this morning, Giles Smith demystified the economic case of the festive fixture schedule, suggesting that while Amazon will provide a fairly limited fixture offering relative to its TV counterparts (52 matches for BT and 128 for Sky), it seems to have ulterior motives. ‘In the festive shopping period, we swarm to the Amazon website in unparalleled numbers and are uncommonly vulnerable to bargains and impulse buys, especially when beset with anxiety about what to get that difficult nephew. At a stroke, Premiership football becomes part of that tumultuous commercial mix — in there with PlayStation4 games and scented candles.’
A business model so prudent in nature bears some resemblance to that of Sky, which first entered the fray for Premier League rights in 1990 and immediately sought to place the English game at the heart of its commercial strategy, in a bid to drive subscriptions and become the predominate cable TV service. Thus, Amazon’s foray this week can be considered an act of enhancing its market share, which as Giles Smith correctly points out, could enmesh English football with typical retail services and blur the lines between the two. Most fans would argue that the custodians of the sport are already so invested in extracting the most cash logistically possible that it is hard to view the game outside of the prism of commerce. With Amazon’s presence in the distribution of the Premier League rights now confirmed, fans will be forced into into a position whereby they will have to cough up a startling £800 to access matches from all three broadcasters. Suddenly a season ticket at Arsenal looks like good value for money!
For fans who are rightly concerned with the ever-increasing prices of TV and digital subscriptions to watch the Premier League, Amazon throwing its hat into the ring offers a sense of hope that one day it can monopolise the market and offer a full package for a more reasonable price, which currently stands at £7.99 a month for Prime Video and which also offers alternative sports and TV series. The retail mammoth certainly possesses the financial artillery to do so, with a market cap valued at $702.5 billion. However, as Joe Weston of WeAreSocial Sport points out, there are some practical issues that need resolving if Amazon is to successfully operate a seamless and uninterrupted service to football fans ‘The challenge now for Amazon will be to ensure that it continues to provide the quality of viewing experience which football fans have come to expect. Heavy is the head that wears the Premier League crown, and you only need to ask ITV what happens if you miss a crucial moment.’ Perhaps it is this potential for error which has led Amazon to only dip its toes in Premier League rights, as it attempts to get up to speed with providing a service of such calibre and importance across the globe.
Beyond serving as a driving force for subscriptions, the rights to broadcast Premier League football would certainly open up a whole new world for inviting advertising and sponsors to Amazon’s Prime Video platform. Paolo Pescatore, vice-president of multiplay and media at CCS Insight suggested in light of Wednesday’s announcement, a business model which would facilitate advertising would make sense. “It could seek to introduce advertising to support its push into linear TV. Another option could be events-based advertising. This way it will benefit from new streams of revenue.” With such a significant global reach, the allure to brands of the Premier League remains stronger than ever and they would surely jump at the opportunity to leverage on the dynamism and popularity of the English game.