Football has steadily gained popularity in Australia in the past couple of decades.

However, as much as the local football competition has risen in prominence, far and away more popular is the English Premier League and marque teams such as Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea.

So it's a huge coup for phone company Optus to snatch the EPL from under the nose of Foxtel, the pay TV channel jointly owned by Telstra and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Optus is reportedly paying US$45 million a year for three years for the rights - a bid that took Foxtel by surprise.


Significantly, this is the first time a telco has bought all the broadcasting rights to a major sporting competition, rather than just a portion of them, such as the live streaming rights.

While EPL isn't as popular as rugby league or Aussie rules, it's a valuable property because it shows in the Australian summer when those codes aren't on air and isn't subject to the "anti-siphoning" rules. These rules ensure free to air providers keep the broadcast rights to key sporting events ahead of pay TV providers. Not being subject to those rules, the EPL can be locked up by a pay TV provider so punters wanting to see any of the competition have to subscribe.

This is what Optus wants.

Over the next few years the government-owned National Broadband Network will be rolled out around the country and a whole lot of broadband providers will be able to offer cheap and faster services.

More expensive telcos such as Optus and Telstra need to find a way of differentiating themselves and they believe content is the key. If they don't adapt there's a risk they'll be commoditised with customers going for the lowest price offering, in the same way we do with electricity or gas.

Optus plans to attract and retain customers by bundling together broadband, mobile and content. The EPL matches will screen across a range of platforms, from TV to handheld devices.

The company is hinting this is the first of a string of sporting rights acquisitions to come. Chief executive Allan Lew said he couldn't comment on whether it would be Optus' biggest broadcast deal "because there are other things I haven't negotiated yet".

Optus has a team looking into the rights for all Australian sports and is believed to have expressed an interest in the streaming rights for the National Rugby League. It's a sign of Optus' ambitions and that the second-ranked telco is prepared to spend big as it takes on Telstra and tries to become a media giant.


Second setback for FoxtelFor Foxtel, the loss of the EPL rights is the second setback this year after it lost exclusivity to the popular Saturday and Monday night rugby league matches (games at other times were shown on free-to-air TV).

Foxtel has about 2.8 million subscribers paying an average of A$93 a month for the service and around 70 per cent of these take up the sports package. The loss of English football and exclusivity over some rugby league matches makes this a less compelling proposition for many subscribers.

For many years, Foxtel only had to compete with free-to-air broadcasters when it bid for sports rights and would often agree with a broadcaster to carve up the rights in a way that suited them both. The move by Optus means there's a new player in the arena.

Bad news on takeoversEverybody loves a takeover. Executives and directors like them because it means they'll be running an even bigger company; bankers love the fat fees they generate; and journalists enjoy them like a spectator sport.

The people who shouldn't love them are shareholders, as research released this week by Credit Suisse confirms.

The investment bank analysed 550 Australian M&A deals worth A$200 million or more over two decades and found that on average, the acquiring company's share prices had underperformed the market by at least 1 per cent in the first 12 months. Companies which ventured offshore for their acquisitions performed even worse, underperforming the market by 5 per cent.

Interestingly, those companies which made acquisitions with cash or debt maintained their performance relative to the market. Credit Suisse suggests that debt funding instils a discipline in the acquiring company that isn't there when they use equity funding, when new shares are issued to fund the purchase.

The research is a good lesson for Australian investors to take an acquirer's claims about synergy and value with a grain of salt and to question whether a takeover has more to do with the chief executive's and chairman's egos than with good business.