Australian Open fee severely down in India as ‘correction’ continues

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
  • Sony to pay about $1.5m per year for Australian Open rights, from 2023-25
  • Grand slam’s value halves compared to previous Sony deal, from 2020-22
  • US Open and French Open also suffered fee reductions in India

Indian pay-television broadcaster Sony Pictures Networks has drastically reduced its fee for exclusive rights to the Australian Open grand slam tennis tournament, agreeing a three-year extension nonetheless.

It is understood that Sony will pay about $1.5m (€1.4m) per year for rights to the Australian Open across the Indian subcontinent, from 2023 to 2025. This is half the amount Sony paid in the previous deal with, which was worth about $3m per year from 2020 to 2022.

Sony will show the tournament, which takes place from January 16 to January 29, on its linear sports channels as well as its subscription streaming platform SonyLIV. Sony’s rights also include the lead-in events to the Australian Open, which began with the Adelaide International tournament on January 9.

As part of the new deal, Tennis Australia, the Australian Open’s commercial rights-holder, has retained significantly more digital content for its own social media channels that will not be geoblocked in Sony’s active territories.

In addition to India, the deal covers rights in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Experts say that Sony will likely sublicense free-to-air rights in some of these territories over the course of the deal in order to boost exposure for the tournament. At present, almost all the value of the deal is in India.

Downward trajectory

The deal extends the trend in India of decreasing rights fees for tennis grand slams. Last year Sony secured exclusive rights in the Indian subcontinent to the US Open tennis tournament for a fraction of the previous fee. Sony’s three-year deal, from 2022 to 2024, is worth about $350,000 per year. This was a sharp drop of just over 90 per cent from the $4m-per-year fee paid by media group Disney Star for US Open rights in the Indian subcontinent in a five-year deal from 2017 to 2021.

Last year Sony also secured the French Open tennis tournament, again amid a lack of competition. Sony is paying about $1m per year for exclusive rights in a deal covering 2022 to 2024. Previously, Disney Star held French Open rights in the Indian subcontinent in a five-year deal from 2017 to 2021 worth about $4m per year.

At present, Star holds Wimbledon rights in the Indian subcontinent in a three-year deal from 2021 to 2023, paying about $4m per year. Experts say that because of the brand value of the tournament, relatively strong competition is expected when Wimbledon rights go to market in India this year. It is thought that the tournament’s commercial rights-holder, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, has been in discussions with Star over a renewal.

Star had taken a step back from tennis grand slam rights acquisitions in the past year, but is understood to have been keen on acquiring Australian Open rights. However, Tennis Australia’s discussions with Indian broadcasters are understood to have taken place during Star’s bid to renew its International Cricket Council events, leaving Star’s focus on the marquee international cricket property rather than the grand slam.

Media group Viacom18, meanwhile, is understood to have not been interested in securing the rights. Viacom18 has shown little appetite for tennis grand slam rights, and also recently secured rights to Cricket South Africa properties from 2024-25 to 2030-31. This includes the new SA20 T20 tournament, which takes place in January and would therefore have clashed with the Australian Open.

Doubling up

One major draw for Sony – and Star – was that  viewership levels in India for the Australian Open increase when the Indian cricket team tours Australia. Sony holds Cricket Australia rights in a deal from 2017-18 to 2022-23, and sources say the properties become greater than the sum of their parts when cross-promoted as an Australian ‘summer of sport’.

However, Star will take over Cricket Australia rights from 2023-24 to 2029-30. India’s first tour during this period will be in January 2025, the last year in Sony’s new deal. Sources say Star will likely be interested in acquiring Australian Open rights from 2026 onwards, which was a key reason for Tennis Australia to limit the new deal to three years.

Sources say that this, along with the relatively convenient time zone for Indian viewers, are the prime reasons the property has maintained 50 per cent of its value in the new cycle. The 2022 men’s final started at 7.47pm local time in Melbourne, ending at 1.11am. In India, this meant a 2.17pm start and a finish at 7.41pm.

Both parties satisfied

The new deal takes the Tennis Australia-Sony relationship to a full decade. In January 2014, Sony secured exclusive broadcast rights for the Australian Open in India under a five-year deal spanning 2015 to 2019. The Australian Open agreement marked Sony’s first deal to broadcast one of tennis’ grand slams, with the broadcaster having previously shown selected tournaments from the men’s ATP Tour.

Tennis Australia is understood to be pleased with Sony’s reach and breadth, while Sony is thought to be very satisfied with the amount of content produced for the Australian Open. TA supplies a large amount of additional content such as behind the scenes footage and highlights which Sony can exploit as part of its rights.

For tennis rights-holders looking for bumper deals in India, the lack of exceptional Indian talent currently playing is a concern. The most prominent current Indian tennis player, Sania Mirza, an Australian Open Women’s Doubles winner in 2016, is close to retirement – a significant blow for tennis properties in India. In recent years Sony has opted to broadcast Mirza’s Australian Open matches on its main sports channel carrying the tournament. Otherwise Sony shows the world feed on the channel.