BT Sport suitor Sir Len Blavatnik named “Britain’s Richest Man”

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Sir Leonard Blavatnik, whose investments include WarnerMusic and sports streaming group DAZN, has been named as ‘Britain’s richest man’ by the annual Sunday Times Rich List.

Blavatnik amassed £7.2bn of wealth in the year to take his total worth to £23bn, according to the list.

The Ukraine-born dual citizen is promoted from fourth place a year ago, swapping places with Sir James Dyson and leapfrogging the Hinduja family, and property moguls David and Simon Reuben (together positioned at number two in the list).

Dyson – who last month returned to post-Brexit Britain, leaving his company’s head office in Singapore – saw his wealth increase by £100mln, the least of anybody in the top ten.

READ: BT Group extends exclusive Premier League rights

Russian billionaire and Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich notably jumped to eight position, from twelve last year.

Against the backdrop of the pandemic, and its furlough and unemployment, there were 24 new billionaires on the Sunday Times list which this year tallies some 171 billionaires.

In aggregate, the total wealth of those billionaires increased by 21% to £106.5bn.

For context, however, the sum worth of those on the Times list equates to some 43% of the net worth of Jeff Bezos.

Or, to say something slightly different, Elon Musk has lost more in the past weeks due to falling Bitcoin and Tesla stock prices (cUS$34bn) than Britain’s richest man is worth.

Blavatnik may not own half the internet or have aspirations to colonise Mars, but, he’s certainly no slouch.

Via his Access Industries vehicle, Blavatnik amassed fortunes in natural resource and chemicals businesses with a track record that features companies that eventually become part of Rosneft, Russia’s second largest company and RUSAL, one of the world’s largest aluminium producers.

More recently, Access moved into media and digital technology companies with key investments in the likes of Snapchat, Square, Alibaba, Spotify and e-commerce app Zalondo.

Is Blavatnik’s DAZN ready to break British pay-tv?

Rights to exclusive live sports content – most specifically the rights to broadcast English football – is reckoned as the single biggest sales and retention tool for the pay-tv and telecoms bundlers Sky and BT.

Football, boxing, and motorsport could go the way of movies and TV dramas – straight to streaming.

So called ‘cord-cutting’ is by no means a new phenomena but whilst Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ have between them amassed 500mln monthly subscribers live broadcast sport has so far remained on the fringes – in the UK at least.

Amazon Prime has the smallest of the three Premier League rights packages, which were last week rolled over and put up for auction, evidently ensuring a stay of execution for Sky and BT as the decision meant streaming companies like DAZN can’t enter the bidding with the Premier League for at least three more years.

It was especially a win for BT which, according to reports earlier this month, is separately in talks with BT Group which could lead to a takeover of the BT Sports broadcast unit.

BT confirmed press reports which claimed it could sell the business unit or alternatively ink an investment and partnership deal.

At the same time, it is widely rumoured that DAZN will imminently sweep away Sky’s boxing deal with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom.

The Anthony Joshua promoter has had DAZN as its broadcast partner in the US and international markets since a £780mln deal in 2018, and reports in April claimed a new ‘nine figure’ deal is in place that will see Matchroom Boxing exit its UK deal with Sky when it expires at the end of June.

DAZN’s app is available to UK customers presently for a £1.99 a month subscription, to access mainly the streamer’s international combat sports content and broadcasts.

With the backing of Britain’s ‘richest man’ and run former ESPN president John Skipper the streaming group could be on the cusp of becoming a major disruptor of the UK’s pay-tv market (and incumbent telecoms companies that run it).

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