UPDATE: Now with the EPL, will Michael Ebeid and SBS still want A-League games?

SBS boss Michael Ebeid talks about the new EPL and FIFA World Cup deal with Optus

Are you happy losing some FTA World Cup games for EPL matches?

•  Optus invests more in football rights – this time for FIFA World Cup
•  SBS gets cash and English Premier League games in return
•  Instead of 64 games every four years, SBS gets 38 EPL each year + 25 World Cup

SBS chief executive Michael Ebeid told Mediaweek the broadcaster has been wanting English Premier League for quite some time.

“We have been after the EPL for some time, but obviously it has been locked up with Fox Sports for many years. It has been a great opportunity for us to secure some content we have had our eyes on and tried to get for many years,” he admitted as SBS released details of its sports right trade with Optus.

“It will be great for FTA audiences to get EPL games for the first time in 12 years.”

The big bargaining chip that SBS was holding was FIFA World Cup rights for Australia. Ebeid explained: “When we did the deal for the three World Cups in 2014, 2018 and 2022, we bought all rights for digital and pay TV and we always had the intention we would end up sharing the rights with a pay operator under the right circumstances. This was the right circumstances to allow us to ensure that we still get the main game of the day which we pick and we would show all Australian matches.  We also have all the finals and the opening match.

“All the other games, which sometimes get very few viewers, could also be two countries that might not have a lot of interest for Australian audiences. We have been able to give those to a pay operator who can show all of them on various platforms.

“From an SBS perspective it is a sensible balance of ensuring all of the great matches on FTA without us having the burden of the full cost of the World Cup.

“To be able to do this EPL deal gives us so much more football. We are going from 64 matches every four years to having 139 matches over a three-year period which includes 38 EPL games every year for three years. That is more than double the number of international football games.”

As to criticism that people will now not see all FIFA World Cup games, for free, Ebeid noted they didn’t show all the matches in 2010. “2014 was the first time we actually showed all the games.”

Without revealing how much money changed hands, Ebeid said: “This deal is financially positive for SBS.”

SBS had some discussions about sub-licensing FIA World Cup games in 2010 with Fox Sports. “We weren’t able to get them to unlock some games in other things in return,” said Ebeid.

When asked if FTA commercial networks were interested in sub-licensing future FIFA World Cup rights, Ebeid replied SBS was most interested in getting access to EPL. “The minute that Optus accessed the EPL we were talking to them in vigour about getting some of those games. There was no point talking to anyone else.”

The SBS boss said that Optus will not be selling any other EPL games to any FTA channels. Optus has done a deal with Fetch which is where Optus customers can watch all the games. Ebeid said he believed Optus would not be charging any additional subscription fee for its customers that wanted to watch the EPL. [The Optus statement noted that pricing details would be unveiled mid-year.]  Ebeid added that he thought the FIFA World Cup games would also be available to Optus customers for free.

Ebeid also noted: “It was a reasonably complex rights deal, but simple from an audience perspective. What this does is cement our international football pedigree. Instead of people only getting the Champions League and UEFA early in the morning plus World Cup every four years, we are now going to be bringing what really is unarguably the world’s best competition to Australia for the first time in 12 years.”

Ebeid said Optus had been great to work with and this deal was relatively simple to close with them.

When to watch: All the games will be on a Saturday night, said Ebeid. “It will be the first or second match which can go to air as early as 9.30pm in the winter here on the east coast. The second game would be starting at 11pm.”

The impact of the EPL deal on A-League

Answering an extra question from Mediaweek about the effect of the EPL deal on SBS plans for the A-League, SBS chief executive Michael Ebeid replied: “SBS still has the A-League for one more season after the current one. When the time comes for the discussions on the new rights, SBS will certainly be interested and will decided what we do at that time.”

“With Optus now an SBS partner we could perhaps see SBS work with the telco for an A-League JV. A winning bid from Optus and SBS would continue to give the A-League a FTA presence and make Optus the one-stop shop for football fans. And perhaps give Optus enough content for another 24/7 football channel. That would be a nightmare scenario for Fox Sports, taking away its most significant live summer sport in Australia.”

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