Timeline and details outlined in AFC's highly-anticipated rights tender
By Martin Ross
Leading agencies and broadcasters are now pouring over the details of two invitation to tenders issued by the Asian Football Confederation for its commercial rights from 2021 to 2028.
The highly-anticipated rights auction took a further step forward at the end of last week as the ITT documents were made available to eligible bidders and there is thought to be considerable interest expressed.
A timeline for the process has been communicated to prospective bidders within the documents, including a bid window between 3pm (Malaysian time) and 7pm on 29 March, and a deadline of 22 March for receipt of clarification requests.
Two separate and concurrent invitations to tender have been issued: one aimed at agencies seeking to market, sell and service the AFC’s media and sponsorship rights; and one aimed at broadcasters ‘and operators of audiovisual media services’ looking to bid directly for the AFC’s media rights.
There are understood to be 15 media rights packages and 15 sponsorship rights packages included within the agency ITT document.
The AFC is offering rights to its competitions (including the Asian Cup and Asian Champions League) for two cycles between 2021 and 2028, and is inviting bids for either the first cycle (2021 to 2024) or both.
At present, the AFC broadcasting and sponsorship distribution rights are held by the Lagardère Sports agency in a deal that runs from 2013 to 2020 and is worth at least $1 billion to the confederation.
Speaking today to analysts and investors, Arnaud Lagardère, group general and managing partner, underlined the company’s determination to hold on to one of its prized contracts despite fierce competition in the agency sector.
He said: “The AFC opened its tender…[and] we receive some conditions. We expect to answer and we expect do so as much as we can to win, knowing that we’ll be very careful about the minimum guarantee, the cash up front and all those things that might happen.
“It’s an important part of the value of the asset. This is something that we want to compete [in] and we want to win it obviously.”
Lagardère Sports is likely to face competition from prominent agencies such as IMG, Infront and MP & Silva, along with Synergy Football, the Switzerland-based agency set up by Patrick Murphy.
The auction will have an extra layer of intrigue after Seamus O’Brien, Lagardère Sports’ former deputy chairman of the executive committee, was recently appointed as MP & Silva’s president and group chief executive and is thought to be keen on landing the rights for his new employers.
Arnaud Lagardère remarked: “We are very well positioned to win it. But I guess there will also be contenders from the Asian environment, from the US, so we expect a tough competition. We have some advantages, we’ve been in this business for years, we know those guys, we know how to operate such a complex competition, so we are comfortable.
“We will be very very careful about the minimum guarantee and the upfront cash.”
The invitation to tender aimed at agencies is understood to include a 3-per-cent minimum guarantee payment to be made to the AFC upon signature of a ‘standstill agreement’ and another 5 per cent upon signature of the long-form agreement.
The agency ITT appears to be offering the opportunity for interested parties to bid across two levels of service so as to appeal to ‘full-service’ agencies, including the likes of IMG, Infront or Lagardère Sports, but also agencies (with little experience in production) looking to act chiefly as a rights broker.
Bidders in the tender aimed at broadcasters are expected to take on the host broadcast responsibilities in their territory if they are successful in winning rights.
The AFC announced at the end of November that its forthcoming worldwide rights sales process would exclude the Middle East, and the launch of the tender was put back following the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf region where several countries have cut ties with Qatar. It was originally due to be launched in the third quarter of 2017.
International media groups that also carry out rights distribution duties, including the likes of BeIN Media Group, Perform or Discovery, would appear likely to be able to bid in the ‘agency tender’ given they can show that they also act as a rights distributor.
The validity of joint bids is not mentioned in the tender documents, with various market players having teamed up recently in able to land top rights.
IMG and Perform recently came together to land Conmebol’s media and sponsorship rights in a $1.4-billion contract (from 2019 to 2022). Perform’s joint venture with Infront has also been named as the preferred bidder by the European Handball Federation rights in its rights auction (from 2020 to 2030).
In 2009, World Sport Group, the Singapore-based agency renamed as Lagardère Sports in 2015, renewed a broadcast and sponsorship rights distribution deal with the AFC.