Is Amazon priming itself for a Premier League bid?

Will the Premier League's desire to reach younger audiences via a more creative approach to content distribution see it partner with the cash-rich tech giant, Jim Dowling asks.

Did you catch Philipp Kohlschreiber and João Sousa going head to head in the final of the ATP General Open in Austria last week?

No, nor me.

Indeed, it’s a rare evening when someone runs home from the pub to catch an ATP World Tour Masters event, a series notable for what it doesn’t include, such as Wimbledon, the US Open, Roland Garros or the Davis Cup. Men’s professional tennis has many merits, but few of us would describe it as "must-have" viewing.

So why then has the bidding for tennis rights become such a big story over the past week? The answer lies not in what was being bought, but who was buying, and what that might mean about how we consume sport over the next decade.

The facts are simple enough: Amazon outbid Sky Sports for the right to broadcast the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 and Masters 500 events. The price was quoted as £10m a year. The fun bit is the conjecture as to what happens next.

Sport’s major global rights-holders and the big tech platforms have been circling each other for some time. A deal here, a rejection there. Some golf on Twitter. The NFL on Facebook Live. Interesting, but not transformational.

But now the big one is just around the corner. The tender for the next cycle of Premier League rights is being distributed to interested parties. The timing is perfect from the Premier League’s perspective, as it always tends to be.

This week, the 2017/18 season kicks off, marking the second year of the current contracts with Sky and BT in the UK. The next round of negotiations are for the season starting 2019/20. Some of the early negotiations are being carried out in public. Richard Scudamore, the league’s chief executive, has been talking of new platforms and live-streaming, over-the-top broadcasting and a more creative approach to content distribution.

Sky Sports has realigned its offer into sports-specific verticals, from golf and cricket to F1 and, of course, football. Now TV is a response to the cord-cutting impulse of younger viewers, who show few signs of wanting to saddle themselves with long-term package deals.

And there’s Amazon, with a cash pile few can match and a need to make Amazon Prime more than just the home of Jeremy Clarkson and his Grand Tour. What would it take for every sports fan in the country to sign up for Prime? Just to be clear, the answer isn't tennis.

Jim Dowling is managing director of Cake, the Havas-owned sports and entertainment agency

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