BWF eyes media rights interest in Americas with revamped World Tour
By Florence Lloyd-Hughes
The Badminton World Federation is hoping that its remodelled World Tour could increase the number of media rights deals it secures in the Americas, according to the federation’s secretary general Thomas Lund.
At the beginning of this year, the BWF unveiled its new World Tour series which features five levels of competition and “million-dollar” prize money in each of the top four events.
Speaking to Sportcal from the federation’s headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Lund said the “evolved” World Tour would bring the federation more exposure across emerging badminton markets such as the Americas.
Lund explained: “China is an important market for badminton and we need to hold on to other key markets, but obviously expanding our footprint into places like the Americas is a priority. There are areas we are hoping to experience significant growth. We are constantly trying to grow and defend our position in existing territories.”
One World Sports, the now defunct US cable channel, previously aired BWF events in the region.
Infront, the Wanda-owned international sports marketing agency, has taken over the sale of media and sponsorship rights to BWF's major events from this year onwards in an eight-year minimum guarantee deal that runs until 2025.
For the first time, the BWF is working with just one agency on both its media rights and sponsorship sales after a competitive invitation to tender in 2016. Infront replaced rival IMG, which sold the BWF’s media rights (from 2014 to 2017), and the Singapore-based Enterprise Sports Group, which marketed the sponsorship packages.
The BWF has chosen Guangzhou in China as the host of the next four editions of the new season-ending World Tour Finals from 2018 to 2021, and Lund expects most commercial rights deals to cover that same four-year cycle.
A rebranded and more attractive product will also mean that the BWF can demand higher fees from its existing broadcasters, according to the Dane.
In China, the federation has spread its events across a number of broadcasters over the past few years, including CCTV, the state broadcaster, Beijing TV, the local government-owned network, and Sohu, the internet streaming platform.
Malaysia has been the BWF’s most lucrative media rights market, with Astro, the pay-TV broadcaster, paying a mid-sized seven-figure sum (in US dollars) in its agreement from 2014 to 2017.
The BWF offers some of its events online free of charge via Badminton TV, a live-streaming service available via YouTube and the BWF directly, but the platform is geo-blocked to protect rights-holders that have deals in certain territories.
Lund was cautious about whether the BWF would move to launch a subscription over-the-top service but he admitted that the federation was “monitoring” the market and could possibly launch something “in the future.”
Lund noted that the revamped World Tour was key to the negotiations with Infront, saying: “The World Tour has been an integral part of why we had discussions with Infront. The Tour is not something we have invented two months ago, it has been on the drawing board for several years.”
When pressed on how much he expects the BWF’s commercial revenue to grow under the new model, the Dane was not specific about his expectations.
He said: “I can’t give you exact percentages but we are looking at growth as we are selling a larger product, but we are also sharing this money with the hosts. We have already seen a growth in the financial outcome in sponsorship and media. We are producing more matches and better exposure for our partners. We are a sport that provides a very cost efficient prospect for our partners.
“Obviously we’ve been pitching the new structure to commercial partners and broadcasters and we have had very good feedback. We have been able to offer a wider product for our partners and now we have a global brand like HSBC on board and we have 27 tournaments around the world.
“We are looking for growth. We don’t pretend that we can ask broadcasters to pay the same for the same product. We are increasing the quantity of our tournaments and the quality of the product.”
In 2016, the BWF brought in “higher than expected” commercial revenues and reported total income of $29.8 million, thanks in part to the Rio Olympic Games (the International Olympic Committee distributed $15.4 million to the federation).
As referenced by Lund, the BWF recently secured the backing of HSBC, the international banking giant, as global sponsor of the federation and title sponsor of the World Tour and the World Tour Finals for the next four years.
That agreement was brokered by Infront, which negotiated terms with IMG (on behalf of HSBC).
Total, the energy company, which has sponsored the BWF since 2015, has also agreed to continue as the federation’s official energy partner and an official sponsor of the World Tour, in an agreement running to 2021.
Total’s deal also includes title sponsorship of all BWF major events such as the Sudirman Cup, the Thomas and Uber Cup Finals, and World Championships.