Although the Premier League somewhat hilariously “unanimously” rejected proposals created and promoted by two of their very own finest, the central issues of control and the distribution of funds will return. “Big Picture” has started a process of change which will radically re-shape the Premier League and the English Football League for many years to come.
The core strand that the commercial success of the Premier League has built over 28 years has been the selling of collective media rights both domestically and abroad. Richard Scudamore, over the years, perfected the model of splitting and segmenting a product into many digestible chunks that both domestic and overseas broadcasters were happy to compete for, and in doing so, pay ever increasing amounts. (At least until the most recent round).
In more recent times, the biggest of the clubs, the most successful and to be fair those that had invested in developing their own global brands have sought a greater share particularly in the rapidly expanding overseas rights market. This desire for a greater share resulted in the change last season from an equal distribution across all 20 clubs to a model closer to how domestic rights are distributed. The estimated revenues for 2019/20 are as follows (provided by Swiss Ramble) . For Everton, the revenues from overseas rights represents more than 30% of our turnover – 4 times the gate receipts in a full season (when fans are permitted) – that’s the scale of their importance.
|Est. overseas PL payments (2019/20)||£m|
|Brighton & Hove Albion||51.60|
|West Ham United||50.20|
However “Big Picture” moves this particular story into brand new territories. The paper proposes the following:
“All PL clubs shall have the exclusive rights to sell 8 live matches a season directly to fans via their digital platforms in all international territories (excluding the UK) – ideally once a month”
In a League of 18, all clubs would obviously play 17 home games. 8 of those games would be sold and viewed via a club’s own digital platform – that represents 47% of all home games. One would assume that the games chosen would be (i) games against the “big six”,plus local Derbies and (ii) occupying the most valuable time slots – Saturday and Sunday afternoons which capture the late Asian market and the early Americas market,in order to maximise viewing figures and revenues collected directly by the clubs themselves.
The interesting dynamic for me is that the creation of competition between the traditional rights holders and the clubs themselves can only finally result in the clubs being solely responsible for all distribution and selling of international rights. A hybrid model where viewers subscribe to their current providers for the relatively less attractive games but subscribe individually to clubs including opposition clubs (when their team is playing away) just isn’t sustainable. Within a short period of time the clubs will have exclusive rights to all their (home) games.
Despite Big Picture being rightly canned, this element of the proposals will be back and back shortly. The next round of rights agreements start at the beginning of season 2022/23. It is almost certain that the largest clubs will want to see an element of selling exclusive rights off their own platforms in this next round.
Let’s assume that the Premier League agrees to something in time for 2022/23 with regards to partial overseas rights distribution by individual clubs, what are the challenges for Everton? How do we ensure we are in as good a competitive position as we can be?
The clubs with the greatest numbers of overseas supporters are going to be the initial winners. However as I’ve said before the Premier League hasn’t reached anything close to saturation and there are millions of Evertonians around the globe who don’t yet know they are Evertonians. They are waiting to be touched…..
Invest in fans
Put simply, Everton have to invest in fans. The People’s Club have to invest in people – globally. We have to create the strategies and build the infrastructure that develops a fan base not only in numbers but in depth of relationship too. That has to start now though. This particular clock is already ticking.
Fortunately we do not start completely at zero. We have some global recognition arising from our history, our achievements, our ever present status in the Premier League. We have assets on the ground (more of that later) and in signing players like James and Allan established interest in football hotspots like Columbia and Brazil. Success in the Premier League and regular participation in European competitions would help too, but that’s a slow burn.
However, given where we are today, what should the strategy be to gain as many fans as quickly as we can?
We have to invest in people and build a strategy.
Firstly, appoint a senior executive with board level credentials to have overall responsibility for international development.
Initially, focus on those countries or regions where our current playing squad have high profiles and large numbers of followers on social media. Build campaigns around their profile drawing them into supporting Everton because of their existing affiliation with a particular player or players. That campaign must include access to local merchandise and specific content (in local languages) tailored around the player in question.
Similarly we have a number of high profile former players, some of whom already act as ambassadors for the club. Make changes to their role, where possible, which includes specific regional development targets.
Utilise the existing international supporters clubs. Build a programme that provides the resources the supporters clubs need to build their numbers, not only through watching Everton in a local bar but through building local community activities – for example, franchising Everton branded soccer schools for kids, wellbeing and fitness activities for adults. Additionally in terms of increasing profiles, provide supporter groups with the resources to grow an online presence. Then mix locally generated content with club generated content to drive traffic, interest, engagement and growth. Do targeted local advertising – local media, focused digital advertising. From that merchandising opportunities arise either in partnership with Fanatics – why can’t every supporter club have its own mini e-commerce store with Fanatics providing the back office and fulfilment? Similarly, allow international supporter clubs to introduce local independent sportswear stores which could stock official merchandise plus supporter club generated goods (tee-shirts, hats, scarves etc).
Supporter groups could compete with each other to see who grows the quickest – the winning group gets a paid for trip to Goodison ( in normal times, of course). The opportunities are endless if there’s a resource and infrastructure there to support it. However it needs investment from the club – the club have to invest in the fans.
Fan’s Forum International Working Group
The Fans Forum are campaigning actively along similar lines. Tony Sampson, is an expat Scouser, now resident in the US who leads the Fans’ Forum International Working Group “ We’ve engaged extensively with supporters groups in every corner of the world. We heard from them that improving access and visibility to merchandise, tailored resources to support local supporters clubs engagement strategies, building awareness of our great history, developing community efforts and customizing communications are top of mind for them”
“We’ve been working the Club over the past few months to help inform their plans in these areas. The signings of Rodriguez and Allan provide a wonderful opportunity to accelerate those plans and we believe that things are moving in the right direction, particularly with plans to open up an international HQ”
“But central to any expansion plan will be the need to strengthen the connections between the global network of supporters, provide the resources and tools to help them spread the word and ensure they have a role as genuine partners in our global and expansion strategy”
Although the macro economic picture is not good and will likely remain so for sometime, the use of local regional partnerships (particularly following the Manchester United model) is extremely efficient in building local awareness. Ultimately that local awareness leads to increased opportunities to sell PPV packages involving Everton matches.
It’s tempting to ask why none of this and other ideas haven’t been executed previously. However, even though Big Picture is not happening in the form proposed, there’s no doubt that the principles will be re-visited time and time again until revenue distribution is further skewed in favour of the larger clubs. Thus the challenge is there, we need to grow our international presence post haste. We need to discover ways of monetarising existing relationships, we need to help expand supporter clubs in numbers and in size. We need to use the players we have, our manager, to increase our global presence.
Doing nothing, or continuing as we have before is no longer an option. The cat is out the bag, collective media rights contracts will be phased out, we are going to have to stand on our own two feet, quicker perhaps than we might ever have thought or wished for.
PS – for further details of the work Tony and his group are engaged in please comment below or contact Tony Sampson directly at Tony.firstname.lastname@example.org