Facebook is changing its approach to live sports, deciding not to pursue renewed free-to-air broadcast rights deals involving UEFA in Latin America and Spain’s La Liga in India.
In an opinion piece written for Sportico today, Rob Shaw, Facebook’s director of sports league and media partnerships, explained the decision in the context of a broader corporate philosophy, pointing out that the company also chose not to bid in the current round of NFL rights negotiations.
“We weren’t involved in those discussions,” Shaw writes of the NFL talks. “We also didn’t bid to extend our UEFA Champions League and La Liga agreements. We still have excellent partnerships with these leagues, but the reality is that traditional media rights deals like these aren’t compatible with our current video business model. We also don’t think they’ll create the most sustainable value for the industry moving forward.”
Shaw’s Sportico piece says Facebook sees a more promising strategy in “establishing a direct relationship with consumers” rather than in rights payments.
Facebook has presented UEFA Champions League games to Latin America since 2018, with exclusive free-to-air rights for 32 live matches each season, including the final. The deal concludes at the end of this Champions League season, set for May 29.
Before Facebook’s confirmation of its plans in Sportico, news began to emerge this week that other companies would gain the Champions League rights in Latin America, with the website SportBusiness reporting that Turner and SBT were thought to be close to deals for the Brazilian rights through 2024.
Facebook’s La Liga deal also began in 2018 and runs through this season, granting Facebook the rights to show every La Liga match—including those featuring Barcelona and its superstar, Lionel Messi—for free to users in India, Pakistan and several other nations on the subcontinent.
When the La Liga pact in India was announced three years ago, Facebook characterized it as an experiment. “This is one deal,” Peter Hutton, the company’s director of global sports partnerships, told Reuters in 2018. “It’s not something that is a big threat to the broadcast world.”
Based on the company’s statements, Facebook will continue to experiment as it expands its sports footprint. But for now, the Silicon Valley giant’s laboratory won’t include massive broadcast rights deals for football, either in the U.S. or abroad.