Peter Hutton Eurosport Eyes Bundesliga Rights Bid

The head of European sports TV station Eurosport has an emotional connection to Germany’s premier soccer league. But his decision on whether to bid for Bundesliga broadcast rights is based on business alone.
Bayern Munich's Thomas Müller and Arturo Vidal react to a goal.

Peter Hutton has a special connection to Germany’s premier soccer league, the Bundesliga. More than two decades ago, in his previous career as a journalist, the chief executive of European sports television station Eurosport moderated Bundesliga matches for Sky Sports in Britain.

“The Bundesliga moves me emotionally,” Mr. Hutton told Handelsblatt. He called the league “the crown jewel of the sport.”

Despite his passion for German soccer, Eurosport’s decision to kick and rush on the Bundesliga’s future TV broadcasting rights is based on business alone.

“The Bundesliga rules everything in Germany,” Mr. Hutton said. The acquisition of league broadcast rights is the company’s “most important” task of the year, he added.

DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga GmbH – the company responsible for the German football league’s business operations – is auctioning international rights packages for broadcasting the 2017/2018 to 2021/2022 seasons.

A subsidiary of Nasdaq-listed Discovery Communications, Eurosport is assessing that opportunity. It would be a rare opportunity for the broadcaster to take on its much larger rival Sky Deutschland.

Sky Deutschland will have to make room for competition.

The pan-European sports broadcaster is interested in showing Bundesliga games “from Norway to Turkey,” Mr. Hutton explained, and is exploring rights for pay TV, free TV, Internet broadcasting and highlights.

“I wouldn’t rule anything out,” he said.

Eurosport’s chances of scoring at least partial rights greatly improved last week, when Germany’s cartel office determined that no single buyer could win all rights for live airing of top Bundesliga games.

That means Sky Deutschland will have to make room for competition. Part of media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s empire, the private broadcaster secured near exclusive live broadcasting rights in the last auction. It advertises its coverage of “all games, all goals” on its pay TV station.

But allowing just one buyer to monopolize broadcasting rights would destroy the market, Mr. Hutton said.

This isn’t his first play on Bundesliga broadcast rights. Mr. Hutton, 50, was involved in Fox Sports’ bid several years ago.

“You see: The Bundesliga is following me,” he joked.

Mr. Hutton, who has been at the helm of Eurosport since March 2015, most likely has seen the price for Bundesliga broadcast rights surge since the last time he was in the market.

With current revenues of about €830 million, or $942 million, the league plans to boost that to “between €1.1 and $1.5 billion” per season, in Germany and abroad,” Christian Seifert, the head of DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga, said last week.

But Eurosport’s interests, like those of its viewers, extend far beyond Bundesliga stalwarts like Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke.

No one doubts our ambition any longer. One should take us seriously. Peter Hutton, Chief Executive, Eurosport

Mr. Hutton, for the record, is a fan of Leeds United in the Premier League of his native England.

Another upcoming competition captivating his attention is the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea.

The International Olympic Committee last year awarded Discovery Communications, Eurosport’s parent company, all TV and multi-platform broadcast rights in Europe for the four Olympics between 2018 and 2024.

As part of that deal, the Discovery and Eurosport agreed to air the majority of competitions on free channels. The deal, valued at €1.3 billion, “radically changed” the image of Eurosport, Mr. Hutton said. “No one doubts our ambition any longer. One should take us seriously.”

Eurosport is in talks with public and private German broadcasters to partially sell its broadcast rights for the 2018 Winter Olympics, Mr. Hutton said. He neither confirmed nor denied that those talks were with German state broadcasters ARD and ZDF, and Bertelsmann-controlled RTL.

Mr. Hutton declined to estimate how much Eurosport would invest this year, since that largely depends on whether the broadcaster wins Bundesliga rights.

But new opportunities may also arise, he added, emphasizing that the company would remain flexible in its business plan.

 

Hans-Jürgen Jakobs is a senior editor at Handelsblatt. To contact the author: [email protected]