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The costs of winning an auction: The case of live TV rights

Most observers were once again left stunned by how much media companies are willing to pay to secure the rights to broadcast live games in the English Premier League (EPL). At the same time the method used to sell those rights is being investigated by Ofcom following complaints made by Virgin Media. Virgin Media actually requested that the auction was halted until the investigation was completed.

Between them, BSkyB and BT Sport have paid £5.136bn to purchase the rights to broadcast live matches in the EPL over a three-year period beginning in the 2016–17 season. This is a 71% increase in the price paid for the previous three-year deal which runs from 2013 to 2016 and cost £3.018bn. However, the headline figure hides some big differences between the amounts paid by the two companies.

How exactly are the rights sold? The broadcast rights for the 168 live matches are split up into seven different packages labelled A through to G and are placed in seven different auctions. The type of auction used by the EPL is a sealed bid auction. Interested companies are invited to make an offer for any of the packages. However, when they make a bid they do not know (a) if other firms have also made a bid and (b) the size of any other bids. Another constraint is that one firm is not allowed to win more than five of the auctions. When the auction finishes the EPL only releases information about the winning offers. It never provides information about any of the failed bids.

Some of the packages are worth more than others to the broadcasters. The first five packages (A–E) each contain the rights for 28 games per season, while the other two packages (F and G) contain the rights for 14 matches. In some of the packages all of the games kick off at the same time and on the same day. For example all 28 games in package ‘A’ kick off at 12.30pm on a Saturday. Others contain more of a mixture. Some of the games in Package E take place on a Monday evening. while others take place on a Friday evening. Given the potential advertising revenue and number of viewers, the most valuable package is D, which has 28 games that kick off at 4.00pm on a Sunday.

Another factor that influences the value of a package is the number of ‘first picks’. In any given week, more than one broadcaster might want to screen the same match. To overcome this problem, each package is allocated a number of first, second, third, fourth and fifth ‘picks’. For example, package D comes with 18 first and 10 fourth round picks. This means that whichever company wins this package will get first choice on the games they want to broadcast on 18 occasions a year. Package C contains no ‘first picks’ but offers 15 second, 4 fourth and 7 fifth round picks. There is also a maximum and a minimum limit on the number of times games including a specific team can be broadcast.

BSkyB won the auctions for packages A, C, D, E and G for a price of £4.17bn. This means that it will be paying £1.396bn to broadcast 126 live games per season. This is an average payment of £11,031,700 per game. In the previous deal it paid £760million for the rights to broadcast 116 live games per season. This is an average payment of £6,551,724 per game. The new deal represents a cost increase of 68% per game. However, the number of first picks BskyB has secured in the new deal increases from 20 to 26.

BTSport won the auctions for packages B and F for a price of £960m. This means that it will be paying £320m for the rights to broadcast 42 live games per season. This is an average payment of £7,619,048 per game. In the previous deal it paid £246 million per year for the rights to broadcast 38 live games per season. This is an average payment of £6,473,684 per game. The new deal represents an increase in costs of 17.7% per game for BT Sport – a much lower figure than for BSkyB.

BSkyB has stated that it will cover the increase in the price it has paid for the rights with efficiency savings. However, many observers believe that it will ultimately result in significant increases in the subscription rates for SkySports. The impact of the deal on BskyB’s profit may well depend on the willingness of its customers to pay higher prices. What is the price elasticity of demand for SkySports at the current subscription rates they are charging?

There is still some uncertainty about the deal following Ofcom’s decision to investigate the legitimacy of the method used by the EPL to auction the rights. Virgin Media made a formal complaint in September 2014 about the collective selling of the live broadcast rights and argued that it was in breach of competition law. The investigation by Ofcom will make a judgment about whether the joint selling of the rights by the EPL is a contravention of Chapter I of the Competition Act 1998 and/or Article 101(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. An initial announcement will be made in March.

Premier League set to announce record £4.4bn TV rights deal BBC Sport (10/2/15)
Premier League TV rights: What does deal mean for fans & clubs BBC Sport, Ben Smith (11/2/15)
How Sky paid £4m more per Premier League match than BT The Telegraph, Ben Rumsby (11/2/15)
Premier League TV deal: Windfall must benefit grass roots and England The Telegraph, Henry Winter (10/2/15)
Sky and BT retain Premier League TV rights for record £5.14bn The Guardian, Owen Gibson (10/2/15)
Premier League TV rights: Sky Sports and BT Sport win UK broadcasting rights as price tops £5billion Independent, Tom Peck (10/2/15)

Questions

  1. Draw a demand curve for package A and package D of the live broadcast rights. Which one do you think will be furthest to the right? Explain your answer.
  2. What are the potential benefits to the EPL of not revealing the details of any of the losing bids?
  3. Explain how the price elasticity of demand is a useful concept for assessing the impact of the new deal on the profits of BSkyB and BTSport.
  4. Given the impact of the new deal of the size of Parachute payments, what impact might it have on the level of competitive balance in the Championship?
  5. Find out the key provisions of Chapter I of the Competition Act 1998 and Article 101(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
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The Big Mac Sauce auction

McDonalds is one of the most recognised names in the world and its iconic product, the Big Mac, is an obsession for many people – though I have to confess that I have never had one. McDonalds is taking advantage of this fact by auctioning off a bottle of its secret Big Mac sauce. The proceeds will go to charity.

McDonalds has around 36 000 stores around the world, located in over 100 countries. The Big Mac is sold in all of these stores and the famous sauce is available there for a pretty small price. However, on eBay, this bottle of sauce has already reached a bid of AU$23 100 (£11 800)! The 500m bottle is only being auctioned in Australia and with a few days before the auction finishes, the price may get still higher.

So, why are people prepared to pay such a high price for a bottle of sauce that is readily available on a Big Mac and which, in Australia, will be sold in small tubs throughout this month?

The advert on eBay suggests that the bottle is being set free and is ‘rarer than a spot on Bondi beach on New Years Day’. As we know, when products become scarce their price tends to rise. This auction will be the first time that this sauce is available, as normally the sauce is dispensed straight onto the burger. The ingredients of this famous sauce are known, but the recipe for making it is not. Perhaps it represents an opportunity for someone to try to re-create it!

An auction is an interesting mechanism to receive the highest price for any product. Most people have a maximum willingness to pay for something and if they pay less than that, they will receive some consumer surplus. However, with an auction, it can be a good way for the seller to force consumers to bid their maximum price and hence this can reduce the consumer surplus.

Of course, in this auction only the highest bidder will actually pay and so it will only be their consumer surplus that is affected. However, other auction designs, such as an ‘All-pay’ auction can extract the full consumer surplus from bidders. Mr Lollback, the Chief Marketing Officer said:

‘We’re excited to be auctioning off the first-ever bottle of Big Mac sauce for a cause we are passionate about… It’s going to be interesting to see just how much people are prepared to pay for such a sought after commodity.’

The final price will certainly be interesting and, with other bottles of this sauce available, we will have to wait and see whether or not further auctions take place or if other mechanisms of delivering the sauce to the public appear. The following articles consider the Big Mac sauce auction.

McDonald’s Big Mac sauce auction attracts $18,000 bid BBC News (3/2/15)
Liquid Gold! Macca’s auction off the only bottle of its trademark Big Mac special sauce in Australia … and bids have already reached $23,000 Mail Online, Leesa Smith (3/2/15)
Bottle of McDonald’s secret Big Mac sauce up for auction USA Today, Jessica Durando (3/2/15)
McDonald’s Big Mac special sauce yours to own from today The Telegraph, Richard Noone (29/1/15)

Questions

  1. Why does the price of a product rise when it is scarce? Use a diagram to explain this.
  2. What is consumer surplus and how can a firm aim to extract as much of this as possible? Why would a firm want to do this? Use a diagram to illustrate the concept of consumer surplus and how it can change.
  3. Why can an auction push up the market price of a product?/li>
  4. Given that the Big Mac sauce is available on all Big Macs, which can be purchased for a very low price, what explanation can be given for people being prepared to pay over £10,000?
  5. When are auctions a good mechanism to sell a product?
  6. What are the different types of auctions that can occur? How do they vary in terms of the price that can be achieved?
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Will increasing competition for broadcasting rights reduce competitive balance in the English Premier League?

The enormous amounts of money broadcasters are willing to pay for the rights to show live football astonish most people. The figures have continued to rise despite the impact of a recession, slow economic growth and static or falling real incomes.

The deal to broadcast live games in the English Premier League (EPL) for the three seasons from 2007-10 was 65% higher than the agreement that ran from 2004-07. The recession did appear to slow growth down as the contract covering the seasons 2010-13 was only 5% higher than the previous one. However the total size of this deal was still a staggering £1.78billion or approximately £593 million per season. BSkyB was the most successful bidder in all of these auctions for live TV rights and successfully saw off competition from ITV Digital, ESPN and Setanta.

However in the last few years, BT Sport has entered the bidding process and has provided BSkyB with much stronger competition than its previous rivals. As a result, BskyB had to pay £2.3 billion in order to outbid BT Sport in the most recent auction. The three-year deal beginning in the 2013-14 season gives BSkyB the rights to show 116 lives matches each year. BT Sport also paid £738 million for the rights to show 38 live matches a season. In total this means that the EPL earns approximately £1billion per season from the sale of broadcasting rights in the domestic market – an increase of 70%!

The Champions and Europa League also auction the rights to broadcast live matches and there was a real shock when BT Sport recently announced that it had secured the exclusive rights to show all 350 live games in these competitions. Once again the figure it paid – just under £900 million for a three-year deal – took most people by surprise. It represented a 125% increase on the previous three-year deal with BSkyB and ITV. What was also surprising was that there was only one round in the sealed bid auction which suggests that BT Sport’s offer was well in excess of the one submitted by BSkyB.

Most of the initial reaction to this new deal has focused on its implications for the number of matches that will be available free to air: i.e. without having to pay for a subscription channel. The BT Sport contract does specify that the Champions League final and at least one match involving each British team will be shown free to air each season. However, this will be a significant reduction in the number of free to air games currently shown by ITV.

The new deal may also have implications for competitive balance in the EPL. This concept was discussed in a previous blog on this New Site Parachute payment problems for the English Football League and refers to how equally the most talented players are distributed amongst the teams in a league. This distribution will be heavily influenced by the degree to which the revenues of the teams in the league vary. Commenting on this latest contract Liverpool’s former managing director Christian Purslow stated that:

The fundamental effect of the BT deal will be additional wealth for England’s big teams. You will now have six teams (Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs) playing for four Champions league places with the other 14 teams playing for survival. Never again will the likes of Everton, Newcastle or Villa get near the top – the difference in revenues will simply be too great.

To understand this statement one has to examine how the Champions League distributes the revenue it raises back to the teams that participate in the tournament. One part of the distribution mechanism is determined by the sporting performance of the teams in the competition. For example all 32 teams that make it to the group stages of the Champions League receive a minimum of €8.6 million. Each win in the group games earns a team an additional €1 million while a draw earns €500,000. The teams that make it to the last 16 receive an additional payment of €3.5 million, the quarter finalists earn an additional €3.9 million while the semi-finalists each receive €4.9 million. For example in the 2012-13 season, Manchester United received prize money of €16.1 million for reaching the last 16, whereas Bayern Munich received €35.9 million of prize money for winning the competition. If broadcasting revenues for the Champions League increase across the whole of Europe then the size of the prizes will almost certainly increase.

Teams also receive a share of the broadcasting revenue generated by the Champions League known as the market pool. The total size of the market pool allocated to the teams in any particular country depends on the value of the deal between the broadcasters in that country and UEFA. In the 2012-13 season the total market pool to be divided between the four English teams in the Champions League was €86.6 million. This was the second highest figure behind Italy. In contrast the four Portuguese teams had just over €7 million from the market pool to share between them because the value of the broadcasting deal in that country was so much lower. The market pool is split between the clubs based on (a) their finishing position in the domestic league the previous season and (b) how many games they played in the Champions League from the group stage onwards. FC BATE Borisov were the only representative from Belarus so did not have to share the market pool with any other team. Unfortunately for them the size of the market pool was only €290,000. Manchester United received a market pool payment of €19.45 million.

Given the dramatic increase in value of the broadcasting rights the size of the market pool for the English teams will rise significantly in 2015-16 season. The battle in the 2014-15 EPL season for the four Champions League places will be even stronger and more intense than ever. As a result, the competition for the services of the most talented players will probably push up their wages to ever higher levels.

Monopoly money: Football’s TV war makes the rich unreachable’ BBC Sport (17/11/13)
Champions League TV deal in focus BBC Business (11/11/13)
Champions League: BT Sport wins £897 football rights deal BBC Sport (9/11/13)
Top Soccer Leagues Get 25% Rise in TV Rights Sales, Report Says Bloomberg (11/11/13)
BSkyB could face Premier League premium The Guardian (11/11/13)
Clubs benefit from Champions League revenue UEFA (23/7/13)
Sky pleaded with football officials to reopen champions league talks The Telegraph (11/11/13).

Questions

  1. What is a sealed bid auction? How does it compare with different types of auctions?
  2. Suggest some reasons why BT Sport were willing to pay so much more than BSkyB for the broadcasting rights for the Champions League.
  3. Do you think that the potentially higher revenues for the top clubs might actually reduce attendances at their matches? Explain your answer.
  4. Explain how the potentially higher future revenues for teams participating in the Champions League in 2015-16 can be discounted in order to give them a present value.
  5. Draw a diagram to illustrate the impact of the new broadcasting deal on the marginal revenue product of the most talented players.
  6. Is the labour market for the most talented players competitive or is it an oligopsony? What implications does this have their wages? How does your answer change if the labour market is a bilateral monopoly?
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An energetic escape?

Following a 38% increase in profit margins made by energy companies towards the end of 2010, Ofgem (the energy and gas regulator) began an investigation into the activities of energy companies. The review by Ofgem was aimed at determining whether or not consumers should be better protected from the powerful energy companies, many of whom had previously raised prices, forcing some consumers to pay an extra £138 per year. At the time, it was believed that Ofgem might request support from the Competition Commission, but it seems as though the big size energy companies have had a lucky escape. They will not be referred to the Competition Commission, even though critics, in particular First Utility – Britain’s largest independent energy supplier – suggest that Ofgem’s proposals are unlikely to be effective. It seems that the big six have shown sufficient co-operation with Ofgem.

A key reform that Ofgem hope to implement will try to reduce the power of this oligopoly by making it easier for new entrants to gain market share. One such proposal would see the big six auctioning off up to a fifth of the electricity they generate. As the owners of Britain’s power stations, new companies cannot buy gas and electricity on the open market and this reform aims to change that. However, there are concerns that this will be ineffective, as the big six may simply outbid the smaller companies or even just buy and sell electricity from each other, thereby keeping their dominant positions in the market. Although the big six have received constant criticism from all sides, the lack of government support for a Competition Commission inquiry may be related to the need for these companies to invest £200bn in Britain by 2020 to help create and build new energy sources, including wind farms and nuclear power. Without this investment, Britain’s energy supply could be in jeopardy. The following articles consider this energetic debate.

Articles
Ofgem may be blown away by the power of the ‘Big Six’ energy companies Telegraph, Rowena Mason (23/6/11)
Ofgem pledges to get tough with ‘big six’ energy companies Guardian, Miles Brignall (22/6/11)
Scottish power investigated over ‘misleading’ marketing campaign Independent, Sarah Arnott (23/6/11)
Ofgem and ‘Big Six’ need to put some energy into cleaning up their acts Telegraph, Richard Fletcher (23/6/11)
In search of a coherent energy policy Independent, David Prosser (23/6/11)
UK suppliers face tough power auction reforms Reuters (22/6/11)
Ofgem: ‘We are watching energy companies closely’ BBC News (22/6/11)

Data
Energy price statistics Department of Energy & Climate Change
Energy statistics publications Department of Energy & Climate Change

Questions

  1. What is the role of Ofgem? How does it relate to the Competition Commission?
  2. What factors have contributed to the investigation by Ofgem into the ‘big six’ energy companies?
  3. How much power does Ofgem actually have to implement reforms?
  4. What are the characteristics of an oligopoly? To what extent does the energy market fit into this market structure?
  5. What are the main barriers to entry that prevent new companies from competing with the ‘big six’? Are the reforms likely to help them?
  6. What other proposals have been suggested by parties other than Ofgem in bid to help new competitors and customers? Are any likely to be more effective than those proposed by Ofgem?
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Going, going, gone – a bargain!

If ever there was something to make you clean out your house and sort out your ‘rubbish’, this has got to be it!! A Chinese vase found gathering dust in an attic has just sold for £43 million at auction. The buyer will pay around £53 million after paying the buyer’s 20% commission to the auction house and VAT. The seller will get around £40.75 million, after deduction of the seller’s commission by the auction house. The auction house itself will make over £10 million – not a bad day to be an auctioneer!

With the price starting at £500,000, onlookers could hardly believe it as the price began to increase by £1 million at a time. The buyer is thought to be a Chinese person or a state-backed company. And, just in case you didn’t realise, the FT article does make special mention that the person is likely to be ‘wealthy’!

The Chinese vase sold for over 40 times its estimate, with speculation that the price was forced up by a Chinese cultural agency owned by the state. As China aims to regain many of its lost artefacts, prices for objects such as this have been pushed up: although perhaps £53 million is a little expensive for the everyday consumer! However, unstable financial markets and rising inflation may also be partly to blame for the surge in prices for objects such as this. We’ve seen how gold and other commodities have increased in value throughout the recession, as investors look for more stable investments – and the same appears to be happening in the world of art. I’ll certainly be keeping a look out for any dusty artefacts!

House clearance vase fetches £53 million Financial Times, Jan Dalley, Peter Aspden and Justine Lau (12/11/10)
Chinese vase: the suburban auction house that made £12m Telegraph, Andy Bloxham and Martin Evans (12/11/10)
Qianlong Chinese porcelain vase sold for £43m BBC News (12/11/10)
Chinese vase fetches record $69 million in UK auction Reuters (12/11/10)

Questions

  1. Why are auctions a good way of selling and buying a product?
  2. The auction house has made over £10 million from this sale, despite only employing 8 people. Does this income guarantee the success of this business?
  3. Using a demand and supply diagram, explain the factors that have fuelled the price increase in artefacts, such as this Qianlong porcelain vase.
  4. Why are people investing in assets, such as art and commodities, rather than in more traditional financial assets?
  5. Could an auction be an example of price discrimination?
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