Special Report: World will soon be worth more to Premier League than UK

Ninety-eight per cent of all broadcast PL games are shown outside the UK and the value of foreign TV rights is set to soar. No wonder clubs like Manchester United are ready to pounce

Manila

There is an advert currently being aired on Bangladesh TV promoting Airtel's mobile phone services, such as match feeds, video clips and Manchester United news updates. It features a 20-something United supporter from Bangladesh daydreaming about team formations during business meetings, drifting in his mind to the next game while having dinner with his girlfriend, and celebrating a crucial goal inside a lift to everyone else's bemusement.

With the tagline "Always On My Mind", the advert perfectly captures the push behind what is becoming an increasingly important part of the growing wealth of the Premier League, and in particular their top clubs – overseas television rights.

Although negotiations over these rights for the next three-year cycle, starting from the 2013-14 season, are yet to be concluded, it is already clear that their value for 2013-16 is set to increase significantly on the £1.4 billion earned for 2010-13. Some estimates predict at least a 30 per cent growth, which would make overseas rights worth more than £2bn, and raise the total value of the broadcasting deals, including domestic rights, to around £5.5bn.

As the Premier League's following continues to grow rapidly across the world – in Bangladesh alone several million people follow United – it appears increasingly likely that within the next few years the value of the overseas broadcast rights will overtake those for the domestic market, so confirming the Premier League's increasing emphasis on growth overseas.

Meanwhile, thanks largely to six new overseas sponsorship deals, United's commercial revenues for the three-month period ending in December 2012 grew by 29 per cent on the same period last year, with sponsorship revenues up 48.6 per cent. The club are now forecasting annual revenue to be between £350-360 million, an increase of 10 per cent on last year's £320m, which was 3.3 per cent down.

What these figures tell us above all else is that the continually evolving strategy of both the Premier League and the leading clubs, especially Manchester United, to drive revenues by engaging with overseas supporters is paying off.

Having visited several countries recently to research the global popularity of the Premier League, it is clear to me that the increasing number of games being broadcast, and the rapidly growing array of digital – in particular social – media being created by the clubs are leading to a significant evolution in the League's overseas support. The character featured in the Airtel advertisement in Bangladesh represents in many ways the typical overseas Premier League fan: constantly fed digital content fulfils his desire to stay connected with the club, as he is completely absorbed by his team's fortunes and arguably as obsessed with his chosen club as any fan in England.

While a growing number of dom-estic Premier League fans are becoming detached from their clubs, particularly due to high ticket prices, overseas supporters are feeling more intimately engaged, not only with their clubs but with fellow fans in other countries and the Premier League soap opera as a whole.

Key to this has been the increasing number of countries over recent years where either most, or all 380, Premier League games are broadcast each season. "Being able to see most if not all of your team's games certainly increases the interest, and makes you feel more connected," says Mohan Thambirajah, chairman of Malaysia's official Chelsea supporters club. "And it also has a knock-on effect on people around you. More and more women are following the Premier League now as they are influenced by their partners, while of course children of all ages watch the games."

Debbie Winardi, who manages international relations for BigReds, Indonesia's official Liverpool supporters' club, adds that as more games are shown, overseas supporters increase. "A contributor to the phenomenon of the Premier League in Indonesia has been the growth of Premier League communities," she says. "Indonesians like to gather and be involved in communities, and this makes them more passionate about their clubs."

Roy Karuhize, a Nairobi-based radio sports presenter, football journalist and marketing expert, adds that the English media coverage also drives interest. "The British media exaggerate everything – you pick the smallest pieces of news and turn them into something massive, like with the build-up to whether John Terry and Anton Ferdinand would shake hands. The way these kinds of stories are built up helps us feel like we get to know the players and managers, and it strengthens our affiliations with the different clubs. Africans love stories, so all this really adds to the appeal."

But the biggest driver of the increasing engagement of overseas fans is unquestionably digital and social media, and unsurprisingly Manchester United are leading the way. The club have partnerships with mobile telecom providers in 42 countries and television providers in 54, while their website is available in seven languages, and according to the club has attracted on average over 60 million page views a month over the past year. Their Facebook page has received 31.5 million "likes", while their official Twitter account, launched recently, has around 105,000 followers.

Ali Kassem, secretary and vice-chair of the Manchester United supporters' club in Lebanon, says: "With Facebook, Twitter and the flurry of mobile applications, a fan doesn't need to stay tuned to a television programme to discover the latest team news or match analysis. It is not far- fetched to say that dedicated fans spend between two to four hours per day checking the latest news about their clubs."

Kyle Diller, director of social media for One United USA, the official Manchester United Membership and Supporters' Club of America, says: "Social media works effectively to bring American supporters together and connect us with fans from abroad. On Facebook, Manchester United have an official supporters' group page for fans in the US where we can connect and talk about the club."

"On Twitter, from my personal account, I've been able to connect with numerous Manchester United fans from around the world, many of them from Manchester. The last time I travelled to watch a match, I actually stayed with a fellow fan I had met from connecting with United fans on Twitter. It just makes you feel more connected to the club through fellow supporters. You feel like a part of the fan base even though you can't attend matches regularly. Every supporter I've met via social media has made me feel welcome as a supporter, which just reinforces that feeling as a fan."

Richard Peters, director of strategy and insight at Sports Revolution, who work with a number of Premier League clubs on their global marketing strategy, explains that the increasing engagement between overseas supporters and the club has been central to United's rapidly growing commercial revenue.

"Manchester United is using digital media very effectively. It's not just about generating interest to deliver more merchandise sales. It's crucial to their commercial partnerships – being able to say to potential sponsors they can target several million potential customers in a particular region, and being able to back that up by pointing to the numbers of United Facebook fans."

The race is now on for other top Premier League clubs to maximise their own global potential. Charles Allen, head of marketing at Arsenal, says: "In all of our international territories we want to build our reach and engagement. TV exposure carries us into a market. Our focus now is to connect with fans via social media and engage them in a dialogue with the club. Monetisation is further downstream."

Liverpool are particularly targeting South-east Asia. They launched official local-language Twitter accounts in Indonesia and Thailand towards the end of last year and they have already attracted 38,000 Indonesian followers and 16,000 Thai. Chelsea and Manchester City are also focusing on a range of digital and social media.

The latest overseas TV deals will help Premier League clubs reach an even larger audience, particularly as new deals in two of the most challenging markets – the US and China – will significantly extend the Premier League's reach in both.

In the US, NBC have won the rights for 2013-16. They say live matches on NBC and Telemundo (their Spanish-language network) will be available to more than 115 million US homes, while games on NBC Sports Network and NBC's various other cable platforms will reach more than 80 million homes. All this compares with an average weekly audience of 140,000 for live Premier League matches with the current broadcasters, Fox and ESPN.

"The Premier League is the pre-eminent soccer league in the world, and is on the cusp of exponential popularity growth in the US," says Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports Group.

In China, the Premier League have agreed a new six-year deal with Super Sports that gives them access to 21 different free-to-air TV stations across a country with a population of 1.3 billion.

The value of the broadcasting rights is also continuing to grow significantly in the more established markets. On the Indian subcontinent the value of the rights in the latest deals grew by 200 per cent, and by 300 per cent in Vietnam and 450 per cent in Thailand, according to data from TV Sports Markets.

Meanwhile, SuperSport, who have a total of 14 channels and show 95 per cent of each season's Premier League games live across Africa, with the other 5 per cent broadcast in full on delayed transmission, are anticipating further growth.

"Premier League viewing figures in Africa have grown quite substantially over the last five years," says Andre Venter, head of SuperSport Africa. "However, we certainly haven't reached saturation point. We are anticipating further growth over the next few years."

Jonathan Dyson is a freelance football and business journalist currently travelling across the world researching a book on the global popularity of the Premier League. jpdyson@hotmail.com

News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Wayne Rooney warms up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane
football
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015