Today is a day for bluff and counter-bluff, poker faces, sealed envelopes and meetings behind frosted glass. No, not Brexit trade negotiations, but the bidding process for Premier League soccer rights from 2019 to 2022.
After bids were placed this morning, we are likely to have another round of bidding early next week with a final result expected before the middle of next week.
Although it's almost guaranteed that the rights will be sold, in lots, for more than the GBP5.1bn Sky Sports and BT Sports paid in the last round, it's not yet clear if any upward leap will be because of the incursion of Facebook, Netflix or Amazon. A modest rise in revenue is likely to come because of an increase in the number of games, up to 200, and a movement of kick offs to bigger prime-time slots.
That is because, according to The Guardian, it's looking increasingly unlikely that any of the tech giants are going to bid -- or at least bid big. Despite the US tech giants appearing to show an interest in sports rights, the newspaper claims to have the insider steer from those involved in the process and it looks like they might be giving it a miss this time around. One possible exception is a rumour that Amazon might be interested in one of the smaller packages of games.
The rights are split into seven packages, labelled from A to G. They are mainly focussed around specific kickoff times, such as the earlier and later kickoffs on a Saturday and Sunday. In fact, there is now -- for the first time -- some Friday night and Saturday night slots. Eight games beginning at 7.45, competing directly with the likes of "Strictly Come Dancing" and "The X Factor," will be available on Saturdays, as well as a selection of Friday evening games that are included among a bunch of other games.
The feeling must be, then, that the tech giants are just starting out with sports rights and will have to see how things develop. How can they reach out to tv audiences -- how do they make the leap from small screen entertainment to the big screen in the living room? How can they compete with brands that are synonymous with the nation's favourite sport?
Of course, there is one obvious company that is head and shoulders above the rest -- Amazon. It already has its Fire Stick TV to bring content to the big screen. You might think you could say the same for Google, but it's not really seen as a broadcaster. While people will tune in to a show on Amazon, you don't really do the same with a Chromecast -- it's pretty much a tv stick to pick up other peoples' content. Same with Apple TV.
Google obviously has YouTube, but watching a 90-minute game would be quite a departure for a site dedicated to video snacking.
So my hunch has been the same as The Guardian's all along. If anyone bids, it will be Amazon, and it's unlikely to go all out for one of the bigger prime-time bunch of games.
Sky Sports and BT Sports appear to have buried the hatchet by allowing subscribers to subscribe to each other's channels, and so it's likely they will be the two main games in town for the next round of rights.
But maybe, just maybe, Amazon is worth keeping an eye on. It's the most likely bidder that, if interested, might not want to wait until 2022 to have another chance to get a slice of the action. But don't expect the Sky Sports and BT Sports duopoly to be broken. Not this time round, at least.