Facebook has refused to rule out entering the bidding to stream live Premier League matches following mounting speculation over a looming rights battle.
Ed Woodward, Manchester United's vice-chairman, told investors in New York last week that Facebook and Amazon were interested in the last round of Premier League rights deals for 2016-19, which were sold primarily to Sky and BT for £8.4bn, and predicted that the tech companies will enter the next auction, which covers the 2019-22 period.
"The Premier League is a very important partner of ours," Dan Reed, Facebook's global head of sports partnerships, said on Wednesday. "We work with them to help them reach their audience. It would be premature to speculate on how we might approach that. But they are a very important partner. That speaks for itself. We continue to have an ongoing relationship with the Premier League."
Reed said that it is difficult to imagine negotiating with English clubs individually and denied that traditional broadcasters should feel threatened by Silicon Valley, citing the example of Facebook streaming Fox Sport's coverage of live Champions League matches, according to the Guardian.
"We work with Fox in the US to help them to get people to tune in to events on television, which is the bedrock of our relationship with broadcasters. There are a number of examples where we help broadcasters and we have an excellent relationship with Sky and BT in the UK."
The California-based firm already has broadcast deals with Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and the World Surf League and recently made an unsuccessful £450m bid to broadcast cricket's Indian Premier League, as reported by ESPN.
In the first six months of this year, Facebook broadcast more than 3,500 different sports events live, ranging from a partnership with Fox Sports for Champions League games in the United States, to Mexican league football games and college lacrosse.
In April, a global audience of five million watched a Barcelona-Real Madrid legends match, while "Hala Madrid," a behind-the-scenes look at Real shot on GoPro cameras, has become an online hit.
But, most intriguingly, Facebook has also just launched a new platform for video content in the US called "Watch," which Reed said is ideal for sport as it combines "episodic, longer-form viewing'' with the conversation and engagement that is the cornerstone of Facebook's appeal.