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Ambitious Eclat sends Premier League fees up in Japan and Korea

(Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

  • Eclat pays big increase to snatch Premier League from DAZN in Japan
  • Value soars 275 per cent in Korea as Eclat wins battle with CJ
  • Eclat now faces challenge to monetise rights in both markets, from 2022-25

South Korea-based Eclat Media Group has firmly established itself as the most ambitious sports broadcaster in Asia-Pacific by going big for English Premier League rights in Korea and Japan.

The company has agreed to pay a 275-per-cent increase to retain the rights in Korea, and has added the rights to its portfolio in Japan, where it is paying an increase of just under 50 per cent. The agreements follow Eclat’s launch last October of SPOTV, a new pan-regional broadcaster in Southeast Asia and key north Asian markets.

In Japan, Eclat is understood to have agreed a deal for exclusive Premier League rights worth close to $26.7m (€17.5m) per season, covering the three-season cycle from 2022-23 to 2024-25. This is an increase of nearly 50 per cent on the current cycle, from 2019-20 to 2021-22, in which streaming platform DAZN pays around $18m per season.

In South Korea, Eclat has agreed a deal worth around $30m per season, covering the same three seasons from 2022-23 to 2024-25. This is a 275-per-cent increase in value on the current cycle, from 2019-20 to 2021-22, in which Eclat is paying close to $8m per season.

The rights were awarded in the Premier League’s ongoing sales process covering 14 Asia-Pacific markets. The tender was released in December with first-round bids due on January 20.

The deals in Japan and Korea are expected to be the strongest of the 14 for the league in terms of the fee increases it has secured.

Eclat unseats DAZN

Eclat’s capture of rights in Japan is the biggest story of the Asia-Pacific process so far. Eclat and DAZN are understood to have been the two main bidders. The rights were awarded after two rounds of bidding.

DAZN bid to renew its rights but is understood to have been reluctant to bid far above its current valuation, having struggled to turn a profit on the current deal. It has recently reined in spending on content in Japan after spending aggressively in its first few years to establish market share.

Last month, DAZN increased its subscription pricing in Japan by 56 per cent, from ¥1,925 per month to ¥3,000 per month. This is the platform’s first price increase since launch in 2016. It has massively expanded its portfolio since then and is seeking to make Japan a profitable market.

Eclat faces a challenge to monetise the rights given that DAZN struggled to do so with a much bigger portfolio of other content.

Eclat currently operates a relatively small subscription streaming service in Japan, SPOZONE. The platform launched in 2020 with Major League Baseball streaming rights at the core of its offering. SPOZONE also has rights for Korean KBO League baseball and a portfolio of Japanese domestic women’s leagues including softball, basketball, football, field hockey and futsal.

MLB is a major property in Japan. Baseball is the most popular sport in the country and Japanese pitcher Shohei Ohtani has in the last couple of years become one of the league’s biggest stars. However, SPOZONE’s rights are non-exclusive – MLB is also shown by linear broadcasters in Japan.

Eclat could offset some of its spend on the Premier League rights by sublicensing. It is not clear yet whether it is prepared to do so or whether it wants to keep them exclusively for SPOZONE.

DAZN is likely to be one of the parties interested in sublicensing the rights if the opportunity arises. The Premier League is one of its biggest properties in the market.

The fee increase the Premier League has secured in Japan is significant and stands in stark contrast to the recent fortunes of other major rights-holders in the market. The value of Asian Football Confederation rights dropped by 60 per cent in the current cycle, while the value of Uefa club competition rights has dropped by 75 per cent.

Not all rights-holders have suffered. The German Bundesliga earned a strong fee in a renewal with pay-television broadcaster SkyPerfecTV in 2020.

Streaming and Son

The increase in value in South Korea will be by far the biggest for the Premier League in the current 14-market sales process in APAC.

Eclat faced considerable competition and the rights were awarded after the second round of bidding.

Two main factors drove the competition. One is recent growth and new service launches in Korea’s streaming sector. The other is Korean audience interest in local star Son Heung-min’s career at Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur. The Premier League also has another Korean star, Hwang Hee-chan at Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Media group CJ E&M is understood to have provided the strongest competition for Eclat.

CJ has been acquiring sports content to bolster its subscription streaming service Tving, a joint-venture with pay-television broadcaster JTBC and internet group Naver. In the last couple of years, CJ has acquired several major football rights properties including Asian Football Confederation competitions, the Uefa Euro 2020 tournament and the German Bundesliga. It has also acquired rights to French Open tennis, from 2021 to 2023, and Australian Open tennis from 2022 to 2024.

MBC is also understood to have bid for Premier League rights, though it is thought to have been far behind Eclat and CJ. MBC is one of Korea’s three major free-to-air broadcasters alongside KBS and SBS. Like the other two, it also has pay-television channels, including sports pay-television channels branded MBC Sports+.

Several other parties weighed up bids but are not thought to have placed them. One of these was ecommerce platform Coupang Play, whose interest in the rights proved weaker than expected.

Coupang Play is an add-on entertainment streaming service to the Coupang ecommerce platform, in the mould of Amazon’s Prime Video. Since its launch in December 2020 it has shown increasing interest in sports content. It sublicenses rights from Eclat for live Tottenham Hotspur Premier League matches – in order to feature Son Heung-min – during the current cycle.

Last year, it made a bid for rights to the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. It also hired former Eclat media rights executive John Lee in what was widely seen as preparation for a Premier League bid. However, it is thought that Coupang ultimately judged that the rights would be too expensive to acquire.

The other parties understood to have weighed bids included SBS, for its SBS Sports pay-television channels, and Korea’s three major telcos, SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus, which considered a joint bid.

The Premier League is critical content for Eclat’s pay-television and streaming platform SPOTV. This is a Korea-specific service, older and separate to the multi-territory SPOTV launched last year. As in Japan, experts believe Eclat will face a challenge to monetise Premier League rights at the new valuation.

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