Optus, the new player in Australia’s sports media rights battle

Optus chief Allen Lew says the company is now ‘in the game’ of sporting rights. Dan Himbrechts/AAP

In surprising news, Optus has secured the media rights to the English Premier League (EPL) for three seasons commencing from the 2016-17 season.

Optus already has the rights for the EPL in its hometown in Singapore. The new deal includes the broadcast and digital rights (broadband and mobile) for all 380 matches broadcast in Australia.

The Optus bid is rumoured to be more than double the A$20-25 million paid by Fox Sports currently. This is a significant investment by Optus and gives a clear indication it wishes to be part of media distribution in Australia, particularly sports.

Optus CEO Allen Lew said:

“We are dedicated to delivering the best domestic and international entertainment for our customers. With 930 million followers worldwide, the Premier League is one of the most sought after sports properties for content providers.”

This is a significant defeat for Fox Sports, which has seen the EPL as a flagship for its programming lineup. This will see an end to Foxtel’s almost 20 year association with the league, which began in 1997. Foxtel is yet to release a statement, although it quickly removed the story discussing the deal from its website after it was posted at foxsports.com.au.

Where will Optus broadcast in Australia?

Much of the discussion about the Optus EPL deal has been on who will broadcast the games, given Optus is not a traditional broadcaster.

There are a few options Optus could take to utilise the EPL media rights. A deal to on-sell them to Foxtel is extremely unlikely. There are other options that Optus could establish, which would see them in a position to compete with Foxtel, in particular FoxSports. These developments could see a shake up for future sports media rights in Australia and also the way in which sports is distributed.

Optus also has the digital rights, an increasingly important part of all sports media rights deals. It could be that the EPL is offered by Optus as an additional subscription channel on FetchTV, its streaming service that competes with Telstra TV and Foxtel streaming services. FetchTV can now be bought outright at many electronics stores, and could see an increase in uptake if Optus were to open the subscription access to all FecthTV customers.

In addition to the streaming of EPL games, Optus could utilise its strength as a telecommunications company and supply a “Live Pass” version of the games. This is comparable to the AFL and NRL Live pass streaming services, where the rights are currently held by Telstra.

Optus may also enable SBS to broadcast some of the games on the free-to-air station, similar to the arrangement between Foxtel and SBS.

Future of sports rights in Australia

“Optus has never been in sports rights and we’re now in the game,” said CEO Allen Lew, not after this latest EPL deal, but one that appears to have passed many without notice.

Last month Cricket Australia announced a three-year deal with Optus as its “Official Mobile Media Partner”. This will not only see Optus customers get free access to Cricket Australia’s Live Pass, but also exclusive content for Optus customers, which includes historic matches.

The next move made by Optus could be associated with the NRL media rights. Both Foxtel and Telstra are yet to agree to a new NRL deal. Optus may secure a deal with the NRL that would see it acquire the rights that both Foxtel and Telstra currently have. This would further entice new subscribers to its Internet Service Provider (ISP) services.

The battle of the ISP and sport

It’s clear that Optus’ intention from these new media deals is to entice new customers to come across to its mobile and broadband services. Part of this may be to counter the recent move by Foxtel to become an ISP with packages that bundle in its pay television services.

With the sports deals Optus has secured it is not only taking on Foxtel, but also Telstra. These deals, particularly the EPL deal, add competition to a market dominated by the latter two interlinked media giants. It could potentially add choice for Australian consumers, or alternatively fragment the sports media landscape in Australia, frustrating consumers further than they already are.

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