IMG in talks with FA after withholding FA Cup rights payment

The IMG agency has withheld its payment to the Football Association for international rights to the FA Cup as rights-holders continue to feel the effect of the sports shutdown.

SportBusiness understands that IMG is now in dialogue with the FA after a recent scheduled rights payment was not made as there remains uncertainty over when the remaining 2019-20 FA Cup fixtures can be fulfilled.

IMG pays an average of $121.7m (€112.7m) per season for the FA Cup’s international broadcast rights (excluding Western Europe and the Middle East and North Africa) in a six-year deal running form 2018-19 to 2023-24. The deal, which was agreed in 2016, represents a sizeable lift on the value of the rights previously.

News of IMG withholding its payment, which was first reported by the Daily Mail, comes as various leading broadcasters refuse to make rights fee instalment payments for different sports properties put on hold by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The FA Cup quarter-finals were due to take place March 21-22 but were postponed and it remains unclear when the tournament will resume.

IMG’s payment schedule for the rights is spread across different instalments and the size of the instalment is not thought to relate to the quarter-finals in isolation.

Rival agency Pitch International sells the FA Cup broadcast rights in Western Europe and the Mena region, also from 2018-19 to 2023-24. It is understood that Pitch does not have any outstanding rights fee payments due to the FA.

IMG’s decision to withdraw its FA Cup rights payment comes after various broadcasters took a similar stance for varying sports properties.

French pay-television broadcasters Canal Plus and beIN Sports have decided not to pay upcoming French football league rights fee instalments totalling €152m ($164.2m). DAZN, the global sports subscription service, has also begun to inform sports rights-holders that it will not make its next rights fee payments for any content that has yet to be delivered.

Nordic pay-television broadcaster Nent was the first to say publicly that it would not be paying any rights fees for postponed properties until they recommence. The trend has also affected South American football with Brazilian commercial broadcaster Globo suspending payments to Federação Paulista de Futebol, the governing body of football in the state of São Paulo.

Upon reporting its first-half 2019 revenues, IMG’s owner Endeavor, the talent agency and sports and entertainment group, flagged up the effect of a trio of hefty football media-rights contracts, including the FA Cup international rights agreement, on its results.

At the start of the year, the FA and IMG, which sells betting streaming rights to the FA Cup, became embroiled in the criticism from anti-gambling campaigners, politicians and the National Health Service over the streaming of the tournament by UK bookmakers.