The COVID-19 crisis and suspension of sport has hit Sky hard, with Q2 revenue falling 12.9% year-on-year, and EBITDA (while flat for now) expected to fall 60% in H2 as the rights costs from a condensed schedule hit the bottom line

Underlying trends are hard to discern amidst massive disruption, but the UK remains strong, and increasingly less dependent on sport, with continental Europe a work in progress to repeat this model

Longer-term initiatives continue, with new branded channel launches in the UK, broadband launched in Italy, and scope for further moves in Germany provided by significant sports rights cost savings following recent auctions

The COVID-19 crisis is compounding the already grim revenue prospects for upcoming football rights sales in continental Europe.

The financially weakest leagues in Italy and France are especially exposed. Serie A is exploring deals with private equity firms, with the pros and cons finely balanced.

There is a window of opportunity for Sky and Canal+—the adults in the room—to build coalitions with selected clubs to nudge leagues towards needed reforms including longer licence terms, reducing the number of clubs and more equal revenue splits.

In a likely scenario, the suspended football season could be concluded in empty stadiums in a June and July rush, nevertheless with severe financial consequences.

Pay-TV incumbents like Sky face limited risk—at worst they lose four months of subscription revenue for games already paid for. No-contract services such as DAZN must anticipate a more severe shock. 

To limit disruption, pain will have to be shared across the supply-chain with players’ pay first in line. But fast coordination in a continent-wide, multi-layered industry is challenging; in places, the issue may turn political.
 

At the Enders/Deloitte Media & Telecoms 2020 and Beyond conference, players from the sports world came together to discuss the current challenges and opportunities in engaging with fans. There was general consensus that free-to-air broadcasters, pay-TV operators and OTT services all have a role to play in serving sports audiences.

DTC services will enable sports organisations to engage with and learn about their fans, but whilst a complementary DTC service can boost incremental reach beyond broadcasters, rightsowners should remain cognisant of the collective power of bundling.

As viewing habits continue to evolve, fastest of all amongst younger generations, the industry needs to continue to adapt, particularly if it is to have a chance of combatting piracy.

With pay-TV competition faltering, UEFA is aiming to stimulate demand for 2021-24 TV rights with early auctions, a possible relaunch of FTA broadcasts, and even, unrealistically, by considering an online service of its own

In the recently completed UK auction, facing no major threat from Sky, BT kept the rights at an almost flat price – probably missing a cost saving opportunity

In the upcoming auctions on the Continent, with former buyers such as SFR, Mediaset and Vodafone having cut back on premium sports, the major platforms’ bids will probably be unchallenged

Broadcast licensing revenues for football are likely to be ex-growth in the top five markets in Europe, with some limited upside from sponsorship and out-of-Europe rights. 

The broadcast revenue boom stoked the rise of super clubs with global fan bases, feeding player transfer valuations, and a potential downturn of the latter could magnify the impact of the revenue decline. 

The leagues in Italy, France and Spain are more exposed to the risks of broadcast licensing revenue decline, while the Premier League’s model looks robust.
 

Across the EU4, pay-TV is proving resilient in the face of fast growing Netflix (with Amazon trailing), confirming the catalysts of cord-cutting in the US are not present on this side of the Atlantic. Domestic SVOD has little traction so far.

France's pay-TV market seems likely to see consolidation. Meanwhile, Germany's OTT sector is ebullient, with incumbents bringing an array of new or enhanced offers to market.

Italy has been left with a sole major pay-TV platform—Sky—following Mediaset's withdrawal, while Spain's providers, by and large, are enjoying continued growth in subscriptions driven by converged bundles and discounts.

With sport at the heart of the pay-TV ecosystem, dedicated online-only streaming services could emerge as a threat to leading players like Sky 

The liveliest newcomer, DAZN, launched in 2016 with mostly second-tier sports. Now in seven markets and counting, it has recently made bold moves into top-flight competitions, notably in Italy, albeit as a secondary player 

History has not been kind to those challenging pay-TV incumbents by selling sports unbundled—particularly in Europe, as Setanta, ESPN, beIN SPORTS and Mediaset can testify. If DAZN can stick to secondary positions in premium rights, or simply less-expensive sports, perhaps it will fare better