EFL seeks advisers to assess international rights strategy

The English Football League has initiated a search for advisers as it weighs up its options ahead of the sale of international broadcast rights from the 2022-23 season onwards.

Announcing the move today (Wednesday), the EFL said that it is looking to work with “independent experts to ensure the best approach is adopted to maximise value and exposure for EFL clubs post-2022, with a view to having firm plans in place by the summer of 2021”.

Pitch International, the UK-based sports marketing agency, currently sells the international rights to the Championship, League One, League Two, EFL Cup and EFL Trophy, in a contract running from 2017-18 to 2021-22.

That agreement, the EFL said, provides guaranteed revenues of $160m (£123m/142m) – or $32m per season – and with rights deals struck across 177 territories. That overall revenue figure is understood to rise by approximately $20m when sales over and above the guaranteed sum are taken into account. There are also additional revenues generated for clubs through iFollow, the league’s international OTT streaming platform.

The EFL said: “The new approach must also consider technology and the opportunities that innovation may provide in this area, as well as ensuring clubs are provided with an international platform to develop new and existing commercial arrangements.

“The role of the advisors will be to provide expertise, in the form of research, analysis and evaluation to support the agreement of a strategic approach and possible tender process. They must come with a track record in commercialising international media rights, as well as demonstrating a clear understanding of the media rights landscape.”

Ben Wright, the EFL’s chief commercial officer, said: “With the change in the media landscape, alongside the launch of the League’s OTT platform, we now need to work with the relevant advisors to inform the EFL and its clubs on the best approach moving forwards.”

In 2016, the EFL and Pitch announced a renewal of their international rights agreement, a deal that represented a 68-per-cent increase on the value of the agreement between the pair between 2012-13 and 2016-17.

The EFL’s move comes after it introduced the iFollow streaming platform ahead of the 2017-18 season, providing a platform for the league and its clubs to generate additional international broadcast revenues.

At present, matches shown by iFollow do not include the matches sold by Pitch in broadcast deals around the world. However, the EFL will now be looking at whether it embraces a full agency model or a split model that facilitates more direct-to-consumer opportunities, whether through iFollow or the clubs’ own platforms.

Ahead of the 2019-20 season, a total of 17 clubs opted against the iFollow service in order to use their own club streaming platform. These clubs included Championship outfits Birmingham City, Bristol City, Cardiff City, Charlton Athletic, Derby County, Fulham, Hull City, Leeds United, Middlesbrough, QPR, Stoke City, Swansea City and Wigan Athletic.

An annual subscription to iFollow costs £130 (€147/$164) and individual match passes are priced at £5 each.

In 2016, the EFL agreed a seven-season deal for UK-based digital agency Realise and US-based streaming service company NeuLion – since acquired by Endeavor – to prove a new platform for streaming services and upgraded payment systems.

The EFL has previously worked with advisors on its domestic rights sales process. At the start of 2017, it appointed Oliver & Ohlbaum Associates and consultant Phil Lines ahead of the sale of its domestic rights.

In the middle of 2019, it emerged that the EFL would review the processes by which it negotiates broadcast deals after an independent report questioned the way it extended its contract with pay-television broadcaster Sky. The EFL appointed independent consultants Harbottle & Lewis to look into how the new five-season deal, which runs from 2019-20 to 2023-24, was reached.

The EFL has invited prospective international rights advisers to contact Wright (brwight@efl.com) for more details.