Does Skybet’s title sponsorship tighten Sky’s control over Football League?

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Football LeagueIt finally happened. After much searching and a number of non-starters, the Football League has found a new title sponsor in Skybet. Yet with the announcement coming just weeks before the start of the new season, there seemed to be a sense of desperation about the deal.

When npower said they would not be renewing back in 2012 the Football League began their search. Having reportedly initially been looking for a higher value deal than the npower one, it would seem likely that they have had to abandon their target figure.

Domino’s Pizza and B&Q were touted as potential replacements, but nothing materialised. Without title sponsorship revenue coming in, clubs would have found a gap in their finances. Granted it would not big, such as those during the ITV Digital collapse, but a gap nonetheless.

And so with nothing else seemingly in the pipeline, Skybet came in to sign a deal that would make them title sponsor until 2018. The deal was actually announced at the same time as BSkyB, the parent company of Skybet, extended its broadcasting deal with the Football League, also to 2018.

What this deal means is that Sky now has even more control over the Football League, covering both its media and marketing income. Whilst we may be told by businesses, banks and other service providers that it’s easier and better to keep everything in one place, there will be some that will see this deal as unnerving.

When Sky brought the rights to cricket in the UK from the ECB, there was much potential seen in the deal. However, it would now appear that the ECB are in a bind where they need the money from Sky’s deal because it is distributed at club level and is vital to clubs’ income, and so they can’t afford to end the contract with Sky and look elsewhere for more money.

Unless a largely increased offer were to come in, cricket in England will remain with Sky for the foreseeable future and with no real competition for rights, Sky don’t need to greatly increase their offer for each rights cycle.

The Football League now finds itself in a position where, having gone with Sky off the back of the ITV Digital collapse, the TV revenue, although nowhere near as large as the Premier League, is a vital source of income for the 72 clubs.

Like the ECB, unless a substantial offer is received, Sky is likely to hold these rights for a while. Of course there are some positive aspects to this, mainly in the fact that with someone as established as Sky the risk of another ITV Digital is all but zero.

But by filling in a gap with Skybet sponsorship, Sky have strengthened their grasp on the Football League which could potentially lead to some form of stagnation in regards to income, with rights deals unlikely to increase by much due to lack of competition, and possibly stronger influence over the League in other aspects.

The hope would be that this is not the case, and there is the possibility that the Skybet deal is just a stop-gap – a reluctant partner who is waiting for a better deal to come along before ending their contract early to make way for someone new.

Things may change, circumstances may lead to innovations, but for now Sky finds itself in a very influential position in its relationship with the Football League.

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