English Soccer Powerhouses Condemn League's Five-Year TV Deal

(Bloomberg) -- Some of England’s most famous soccer clubs have lobbied for more freedom to grab commercial opportunities opened up by sports streaming.

So when the English Football League signed a 595 million-pound ($764 million) deal on Monday giving Sky Plc exclusive rights to more of their matches for five years, their response was withering.

The deal dashes the ambitions of the second-tier league’s more prestigious clubs such as Leeds United, Aston Villa and Derby County to squeeze more income from their fan bases, which are bigger than those of some teams in the top-flight Premier League, the world’s richest soccer competition.

A group of 19 clubs said on Tuesday they were “gravely concerned” that the league had signed the deal with Sky and made changes to the draft agreement without their knowledge. They said the deal gave more games and broadcast rights for less money and damaged their ability to control the streaming of games and set prices.

“Our issues are not with Sky,” the clubs said in a joint statement. “There is a calm determination within Championship clubs to ensure the matter is not left here.”

The league had no immediate response to the clubs’ concerns.

The clubs have contemplated forming a breakaway league since details of the new Sky contract emerged last year. That option remains a possibility, said a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named as the talks are private.

Premier League games screened live by BT Group Plc and Sky are earning around 10 million pounds per game -- that’s 20 times the income from English Football League matches that can draw audiences that are around one-third the size on average.

The top clubs can’t understand why the league authorities agreed a deal with one broadcaster when it could have divided the matches into packages of live and free games and online streaming. They also don’t see why they’ve been locked into a five-year arrangement when technology is changing so fast.

Research last year by Derby Chairman Mel Morris hardened their resolve. Morris found the league could generate around 1.5 billion pounds over the course of a five-year deal.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.