YouTube’s sports plans: Scottish soccer highlights, English next?

North of the border, the Scottish Premier League this week partnered to give YouTube non-exclusive carriage of highlights clips for three seasons, starting with this month’s 2012/13 season opener (release).

Those rights are also held by STV, Perform Group and BBC Scotland. The YouTube deal is not a typical rights deal – YouTube is really just providing its platform for a channel managed by the SPL and populated with its own videos.

That mimics the arrangement under which YouTube, which is becoming increasingly interested in sports video rights, broadcasts Indian Premier League cricket matches around the world.

Could we see YouTube gain English Premier League soccer as well as Scottish?

In England, the Premier League in June awarded live multi-platform rights for the 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2015/16 seasons to BSkyB and BT, whose combined winning bids of £3.018 billion doubled the previous outlay.

But the Premier League is still yet to unveil winning bids for three outstanding packages – internet clips (including mobile), “near-live” long-form for on-demand and “near-live” long-form for linear. An announcement is expected by October.

If Google goes for anything, it would be the internet clips, currently held by Yahoo (the existing mobile package is held by ESPN). Bidders are likely to include Perform Group and ESPN, which has lost lucrative live rights.

If it paid money to the league, Google could cure court action the league has taken against YouTube in the U.S. for allowing unauthorised YouTube clip uploads. But observers shouldn’t expect a bid…

Whilst the EPL has an array of suitors, the SPL’s YouTube deal is motivated by trying to secure a wider audience for its product, which some consider sub-standard and devalued by the loss of its number-two club, Rangers, to relegation following financial insolvency. A big motivator for the SPL is that its YouTube highlights can be viewed globally, not just at home in Scotland.

Whilst the SPL tells paidContent it never gives its matches away for free, it’s hard to imagine the EPL giving its away for anything other than maximum value  – maximising audience may prove a lesser concern.

The way the SPL structured the deal with YouTube allows Google to go on being a platform rather than a content owner. That may rule YouTube out of a full-on bid for English Premier League rights.

But it would, no doubt, love to get its hands on legal Premier League video in any way it can. YouTube now has a senior director of sports for Europe, Middle East and Africa – Stephen Nuttall, the former commercial director of the EPL’s main live rights holder, BSkyB.