The likes of Amazon and Facebook will “absolutely” enter the bidding war when the next round of television rights come up for tender, according to Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
Premier League football has been shown on Sky Sports since the league’s inception in 1992, with BT Sport – which owns Champions League and Europa League as well as some Premier League rights – entering the market three years ago.
The current Premier League deal, which runs through to 2019, is worth £5.14billion – an eye-watering amount even for what many consider to be the most popular league in the sport.
Viewing habits are changing, though. The English Football League has this season allowed clubs to stream its games overseas through the ‘iFollow’ platform, while from 2019 that service will be available on home soil for midweek games from 2019.
Amazon has started live-streaming NFL games this season and in some overseas countries it is commonplace for fans of sports to be able to purchase subscriptions to only watch their team, should they wish.
Woodward can see change coming to his sport too, and not just for the Premier League.
“Absolutely, I think they’ll enter the mix,” he said of the internet giants. “I think anecdotally there was strong interest in the last cycle.
“We are hearing that around the Premier League table but we’re also hearing that from a European perspective as well, in terms of interest in the Champions League and in Europa rights.
“But I think the wider picture you have to look at what is happening elsewhere at the moment because obviously there aren’t any clear European sales to these kind of partners at the moment.
“We are going to see an increasing engagement from those organisations and it is going to be increasingly important to digitally engage with fans.”
Woodward was speaking to investors after United announced their financial results for the year, having achieved a record operating profit of £80.8million and record earnings of £199.8million before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation.
United also announced record-breaking revenue of £581.2million for the year ending June 30, 2017.
It is the second successive year the Red Devils have earned more than half a billion pounds and comes despite not being involved in the Champions League and stuttering home sixth in the Premier League.
Woodward predicts “exciting times” on and off the field at Old Trafford, with business showing year-over-year growth and play improving under Jose Mourinho’s guidance.
However, revenue for fiscal 2018 is expected to drop slightly to £575million-£585million, in part due to an uplift in salaries due to the Champions League qualification.