English Soccer Clubs Get Streaming Rights in New Sky Deal

(Bloomberg) -- Teams from England’s lower-tier professional soccer leagues have gained the right to stream live games on their websites for the first time after signing a new five-season broadcasting deal with Sky Plc.

The deal, worth 120 million pounds ($159 million) a year, grants Sky the exclusive live broadcasting rights to 150 matches from the English Football League’s Championship, League One and League Two divisions, the second, third and fourth tiers of local soccer under the Premier League. Cup competitions and the Sky Bet Play-Offs are also covered by the deal, which runs from the 2019/20 season until May 2024 and has a total value of 600 million pounds, the league said in an emailed statement.

As part of the arrangement, clubs will have the right to live-stream in the U.K. and Ireland any league match outside Saturday afternoons that isn’t being broadcast by Sky. Some of these matches will compete head-on with BT Group Plc’s coverage of European Champions League games.

“This deal helps the EFL think about how to go direct to the consumer and it also gives the clubs more money,” said Ian Whittaker, an analyst at Liberum. “But it helps Sky in terms of its longevity and it reduces the incentive for consumers to go to pirate sites."

BT was the highest bidder for a three-year deal at the first round stage, according to a letter circulated to the clubs by EFL Chief Executive Officer Shaun Harvey.

“BT was given an opportunity to make a knockout bid, in the knowledge that should they reach a pre-determined figure, this would be recommended by the executive,” Harvey said in the letter. “BT chose not to make a significantly improved bid.”

BT declined to comment on the specifics of the EFL bidding process, but said it remains “financially disciplined” in its approach to bidding for rights.

Although the new deal is worth 36 percent more than the current contract, one of the EFL’s members, Derby County, has been vocal in pushing for a more lucrative deal with Sky, arguing that the rights are worth closer to 300 million pounds a year. Derby wanted the rights to be packaged in order to attract a higher valuation. The club argues that EFL matches are watched on average by one-third of the audience that watch the Premier League, but attract 20 times less value from the existing television deal.

“The new opportunity for EFL Clubs to live-stream their matches through a direct to consumer service in the U.K. is a revolutionary and exciting step,” Harvey said in the statement.

Several clubs in the EFL with large fan bases, such as Sunderland, Derby, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa, may be keen to test the opportunities for live-streaming.