Sports Rights Now Make Up 26 Percent of Global Content Spend

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TV broadcasters and streamers invested $38 billion in sports rights in 2018, nearly double the $20 billion spent in 2012, according to new research from Ampere Analysis.

Whether's its basketball, baseball, hockey or either kind of football — domestic or international versions — sports is big business. Globally, television broadcasters, and to a lesser degree, online streamers, fork out fully 26 percent of their total content spend on sports rights, according to a report published Wednesday by Ampere Analysis.

The market for sports rights has nearly doubled in the last six years, from $20 billion in 2012 to $38 billion last year and, Ampere believes, there is still plenty of room to grow.

The U.S. remains the largest single market for sports rights, with a $19 billion annual spend, a figure likely to jump as new rights cycles kick in for the NFL, MLB and later the NBA. Ampere forecasts the top U.S. leagues generating a further $4 billion per year in rights revenues by the end of the next six years.

But Europe is no spendthrift either, with broadcasters and online players in Europe's big five markets (U.K., France, Germany, Italy and Spain) shelling out €10 billion ($11 billion) for sports rights in 2018, double the amount from six years ago. European broadcasters and pay TV operators in the big five spend a third of their content budget, on average, on sports, compared to 26 percent in the U.S.

Traditional broadcasters, particularly pay TV operators such as Sky and Telefonica, are the biggest spenders, accounting for 60 percent of total sports rights spend in Europe. Online platforms have begun to enter the market but are still very minor players.

Commercial broadcasters such as Germany's RTL, ITV in Britain and TF1 in France invest an average of 25 percent of their budget on sports, while European public broadcasters spend an average of just 10 percent, in part due to being priced out of the race for the most valuable events.

The impending launch of new streaming services — Apple TV + and Disney+ will launch next month, WarnerMedia's HBO Max and NBCUniversal's SVOD service Peacock in early 2020 — is expected to further fragment TV audiences and will likely put pressure on cash-strapped traditional broadcasters. But Alexios Dimitropoulos, a senior analyst at Ampere, believes the new SVOD wave will not drive down sports rights. 

He explains, "Although there are significant competitive pressures on TV revenues due to the rise of new online competitors, the impending direct-to-consumer fragmentation of the market may also open up opportunities for sports rights bodies — who will increasingly hold some of the few premium rights that money can still buy."