In this edition of Scoreboard, we explain how Disney used Indian Premier League cricket to break into the Asian country’s digital market, explore how Mediapro’s dispute with the French football league is a bad omen for the value of sports rights, analyse the difficult history of diversity at golf’s US Masters, and more.
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How Disney cracked India with IPL cricket
This dispatch is by Benjamin Parkin in Bangalore
As the Indian Premier League concluded this week, its hundreds of millions of viewers had long forgotten the clouds that hung over the cricket tournament earlier this year.
Originally slated for March, the two-month IPL was twice postponed, embroiled in geopolitical tension and ultimately, as India’s coronavirus cases spiralled, held in the United Arab Emirates with no spectators.
All that mattered little once its winning recipe of fast-paced Twenty20 matches stuffed with a who’s who of global cricket talent got under way.
The IPL — the highlight of the sporting calendar in the country of 1.4bn people — attracted record viewership and higher advertising spend despite the pandemic’s economic disruption.
This was a welcome relief for Disney, which secured the TV and digital rights through its 2019 acquisition of 21st Century Fox.
Appetite for the IPL was “absolutely astounding,” Disney’s Asia-Pacific outgoing president Uday Shankar told the FT.
Millions of viewers — and plenty of advertisers — came not through television but the entertainment giant’s Indian streaming platform Disney Plus Hotstar. This highlights how cricket has become one of the most formidable weapons for foreign media groups fighting for a slice of the promising Indian digital market.
Disney said this week that the IPL drove growth of its global streaming audience, which stood at nearly 74m subscribers at the end of September. Media Partners Asia, a consultancy, expects that it will reach more than 25m in India alone by the end of 2020, far outpacing international rivals Amazon and Netflix.
Cricket is particularly valuable for internet companies looking to grow their audience beyond English-speaking urban elites, where a premium platform like Netflix thrives. The IPL could be streamed on Disney Plus Hotstar in Indian languages from Hindi to Tamil to Kannada.
“There was this conventional wisdom that people just wanted to see the pictures . . . and they didn’t care about the language,” Shankar said. Offering the IPL in multiple languages “has unlocked a massive market.”
Analysts have speculated that Amazon, which this week secured the rights to stream New Zealand cricket in India, may be gearing up for a bid when the IPL rights next become available from 2023.
Other possible contenders include internet groups like Facebook, which has unsuccessfully bid for the IPL previously, or even Jio, the operator run by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani.
He already owns none less than this year’s IPL champions, the Mumbai Indians.
Greed, hubris and betrayal: French league dispute spells trouble for football’s future
French football is in big trouble.
Mediapro, the Spanish-headquartered and Chinese-owned company, wants to renegotiate its €780m per season deal to screen matches in Ligue 1, France’s top club competition.
Worse still, it has skipped a €172m payment to the league due last month, put itself under court protection in Paris by using a new legal process designed to help companies struggling to pay their debts due to coronavirus, and left the French league scrambling for bank loans to cover the budget shortfall.
Jaume Roures, Mediapro’s founder, tells Scoreboard that the coronavirus pandemic has affected the football business, just as it has affected other industries.
“Just look at LVMH’s effort to renegotiate its takeover of Tiffany,” he said. “There are many deals like that were signed before Covid-19 and look different now. It is obvious that football deals will also be affected.”
It’s worth reading the full FT story on the corporate battle here.
It is a tale of hubris, betrayal and the bare-knuckled negotiating tactics of Roures, who is described by one French club owner as a “pirate”.
While the Mediapro dispute could be considered a uniquely French disaster, it portends a wider reckoning across European football.
It is a sign that the fuel behind the skyrocketing revenues at the continent’s top clubs — the escalating price of television rights deals — may have run out.
François Godard, a senior media analyst at Enders Analysis, says the value of football media deals kept rising due to heavy competition between companies seeking to screen top football matches — and attracting the passionate fanbases that watch them.
Across Europe, the crowded field of bidders included Sky, Vivendi, Discovery, BT, beIN and DAZN.
These companies have been forced to re-evaluate their spending priorities in the pandemic, reducing appetite for competition. In June, Germany’s Bundesliga sold its domestic TV rights for €4.4bn over four years to Sky and DAZN — a 5 per cent reduction on its prior deal.
One German football executive said the haircut the Bundesliga has taken will look good, compared to the ones that will be forced on other leagues in their next media rights deals.
“The Mediapro story tells us that leagues . . . have been greedy, and far too short term,” said Godard. “But the French league has been a bit more greedy, and a lot less lucky.”
At the US Masters, a change is gonna come
This dispatch is by Sujeet Indap in New York
Nearly 20 years ago, the then-chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club infamously said that the home of the Masters tournament would not admit a woman member “at the point of a bayonet”.
The club and the tournament had always played up nostalgia keeping up staid traditions and obsessively honouring past champions.
The bleak side of that sentimentality — the Georgia institution since its establishment in the early 1930s had never been kind to minorities or women — tended to get airbrushed because the sporting spectacle each April was almost divine.
Augusta granted its famed green jackets to its first women members — banker Darla Moore and diplomat Condoleezza Rice — a decade after a campaign for change in the early 2000s.
After a summer of social justice protests overtaking professional sports, an autumn Masters has forced the ANGC to at least give the appearance that it acknowledges a wider world.
Earlier this week, the club’s chairman, Florida lawyer Fred Ridley, announced that Lee Elder, who in 1975 became the first black player to compete in the Masters, would serve as an honorary starter in 2021 alongside usuals Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
The ANGC also announced it would endow in Elder’s honour golf scholarships at Paine College, a historically black school in Augusta. The ANGC said it would, alongside corporate sponsors, invest $10m in Augusta, Georgia. The city, despite the presence of the club, is historically segregated and impoverished.
What the club did not say, however, is if it would ever consciously grapple with its ugly past even as it trumpeted its latest philanthropy.
The ANGC did not have a black member until the 1990s, even though course caddies and club workers were almost exclusively black. Charlie Sifford, another top black player from the late 1960s, never was invited to play in the Masters which stung him until his death. The ANGC did not respond to request for comment.
Despite its decidedly Southern flavour, the ANGC has long lived up to the “national” in its name with members reputedly including such business titans as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
The golf course itself has state-of-the-art technology and the tournament’s television coverage has been groundbreaking. The balance between Masters lore and a changing world has never been so delicate or stark.
Journalist Alan Shipnuck who wrote a book on Augusta National told Scoreboard: “The club has clearly become more sensitive to public perception, so it’s fair to ask if its newfound wokeness is performative or sincere. I think it’s both, but at least Augusta National is finally evolving.”
Private equity firms CVC Capital Partners and Advent International want to add a “breakaway clause” to their €1.6bn deal to buy into Italy’s Serie A football competition. The measure would be designed to protect their investment if a rival European super league is launched.
Reebok is drawing early-stage interest from private equity firms Permira and Triton, as Adidas looks to offload the US sports outfitter. In 2019, Reebok’s sales contributed just 7 per cent of the German sportswear maker’s total sales of €23.6bn.
Swiss private bank Julius Baer set aside $80m after reaching a settlement with the US Department of Justice’s investigation into corruption at Fifa, the world governing body for football.
The International Olympic Committee boosted its so-called solidarity funding by 16 per cent to $590m, providing crucial support to athletes and national Olympic committees at a time when the pandemic hits their finances.
Formula One, the global motorcar series, will add W Series races to its schedule in 2021 in a major boost to the start-up women-only championship that was forced to call off its 2020 season due to the pandemic.
Flutter Entertainment, the bookmaker that owns Sky Bet and PaddyPower, lifted its earnings forecast by about £100m as punters flocked back after the resumption of sports. The FT’s Lex column muses that an expansion into the US looks timely as the UK and Germany crack down on gambling companies.
Greg Clarke, chair of the Football Association, the governing body of English football, appeared before British parliamentarians on Tuesday. In a gaffe-filled performance, he made remarks about black, Asian, gay people and women that many deemed offensive. Later, he resigned over his use of “unacceptable” language.
The Miami Marlins named Kim Ng as general manager, making her the first woman to take on such a role at a Major League Baseball franchise.
In the clubhouse
Before the Masters got under way at Augusta National this week, Jon Rahm played a mesmeric shot during a practice round. The Spanish golfer, as seen in this video, gets the ball to skim the water and circle the green, producing a once-in-a-lifetime hole-in-one.
Scoreboard is written by Samuel Agini, Murad Ahmed and Arash Massoudi in London, Sara Germano, James Fontanella-Khan, and Anna Nicolaou in New York, with contributions from the team that produce the Due Diligence newsletter, the FT’s global network of correspondents and data visualisation team.