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Manchester United flirts with Amazon, Facebook in broadcast deal

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    Burnley’s Chris Wood, left, and Manchester United’s Matteo Darmian chase after the ball during an English League Cup soccer match in Manchester on Sept. 20.

Manchester United is anticipating Amazon and Facebook to pursue broadcast rights for the English Premier League.

Soccer’s wealthiest competition is preparing to sell rights for games for the 2019-2022 cycle, with the most valuable domestic rights due to be auctioned early in 2018. The rights to show games in Britain are currently split between pay TV networks Sky and BT, who are collectively paying 5.1 billion pounds ($7 billion) over three years. On top of that, the 2016-19 overseas rights are generating more than 3 billion pounds.

Sky, whose biggest shareholder is Rupert Murdoch’s Fox, has held the majority of rights since the competition’s inception in 1992. But United, the record-20-time English champion, is expecting e-commerce powerhouses like Amazon and social network Facebook to pursue a slice of the live action for digital platforms.

“Absolutely I think they will enter the mix,” United vice chairman Ed Woodward said on an earnings call today. “Anecdotally there was incredibly strong interest in the last cycle. We are hearing that around the Premier League table and we are also hearing that from a European perspective in terms of interest in the Champions League and Europa rights.”

Woodward pointed to how Amazon Prime has replaced Twitter this year as the online streaming partner for Thursday night NFL games in the United States. Facebook has also started streaming Major League Soccer games this season.

“I do think we are going to see an increasing engagement from these and we would welcome the interest (in the Premier League),” Woodward said. “It’s going to be increasingly important to digitally engage with fans and we think we can be complementary to partners like this.”

United published its annual financial results today that showed its broadcast revenue soared 38 percent to 194.1 million pounds. Total turnover jumped 13 percent to a record 581.2 million pounds during Jose Mourinho’s first year as manager.

United won the League Cup and the Europa League last season, earning a spot in the Champions League for this season despite finishing sixth in the Premier League.

United also reported that pre-tax profits rose 8 percent to 39.2 million pounds in the year to June 30, 2017. Staff costs climbed 14 percent to 31.3 million pounds, largely due to salaries of players. United is forecasting revenue of 575-585 million pounds in the current financial year.

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