Cristiano Ronaldo’s eagerly-anticipated debut for Juventus will be shown live on Facebook in the U.K. and Ireland after the new Serie A rights-holder Eleven Sports reached a deal with the social network to promote the launch of its streaming service.
Eleven Sports offers channels in eight countries, delivering a mixture of live sport to 17 million customers. The launch of its UK and Ireland platform is imminent, having wrested the rights to Spain’s La Liga from Sky and Italy’s Serie A from BT Sport.
Other high-profile coups have included NBA basketball and UFC mixed martial arts, while the broadcaster has also secured rights to Chinese, Dutch and Swedish football to flesh out its schedule. The first event to be shown live on the service will be golf’s U.S. PGA Championship later this week.
Eleven Sports Facebook
Facebook will be Eleven Sports free-to-air (FTA) partner, with at least one game per week from La Liga and Serie A to be shown live, while the first two days of the U.S. PGA Championship will also be free-to-view. Matches from other leagues will also be shown on the Eleven Sports Facebook page, as well magazine shows and highlights as the company looks to establish itself as a household name in the U.K. sports TV market.
It’s a tactic that has been employed successfully in other markets. For example, a live German Bundesliga match was made available to Polish viewers while a French Ligue 1 game was broadcast in Belgium. BT Sport has done similar things in the past by showcasing the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League finals for free on YouTube in a move that highlights the changes taking place in live sports broadcasting.
Analysts believe that in the future, consumers will simply pick from a range of over the top (OTT) services rather than pay for sports they don’t want. All four major US sports leagues have such a platform, while the Football League also has ambitious plans alongside its more conventional deal with Sky Sports. Next season will see the first live Premier League matches shown on Amazon Prime – the first time English top-flight football will be shown solely over the Internet.
But Eleven Sports arguably the biggest development yet in this broadcasting shift – at least in the U.K. It is still in talks with “other” carriers as it seeks to make its channels available as widely as possible, and it is probable this platform-agnostic approach will be adopted by others.
Earlier this year, rugby union’s Pro 14 competition signed a deal with Premier Sports that will see every single match shown live – the first time this has ever happened. Premier Sports is available on most major TV platforms but can also be viewed through a dedicated application on mobile devices.
Although Sky Sports is available via NOW TV and BT Sport via an application, both services are considerably more expensive than the £7-10 cost of a streaming service like Eleven Sports or Premier Sports.
It remains to be seen whether this premium can be maintained at a time when both BT and Sky are losing rights to content, but the lion’s share of Premier League matches is still shown exclusively live on Sky and BT, while most major domestic sport is still the preserve of traditional broadcasters.
For general sports fans who want to watch everything, the presence of so many players could make things expensive. But for those who watch specific sports and competitions, the advent of streaming will result in greater flexibility, lower cost and more content.
As for Facebook, the deal will help its goal of getting users to spend more time on the platform – and looking at adverts. It has reached a deal with Major League Baseball (MLB) to stream one game a week, while it also made an ultimately unsuccessful $600 million bid to show cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL) back in 2017.
There is one common thread in all these narratives – the power of live sport to bring users to a platform in an era when there is unprecedented competition for people’s attention.