FOX Steals UEFA C.L. Rights from ESPN


All the buzz of the last year that ESPN would be able to solidify its hold on football fans in the United States by acquiring Premier League rights is now moot. Fox Soccer Channel’s audacious gamble to acquire UEFA Champions League rights has been successful according to sources. FOX’s Jamie Trecker, a friend of this site and our podcast has also reported the imminent move on his website.  Expect an announcement soon. This follows on the heels of FOX’s gamble to acquire the Latin American rights for the Champions League.

The loss of the Champions League leaves ESPN with MLS as its marque yearly football product in the states. The ESPN MLS package has performed poorly and has been nowhere close to meeting the network’s expectations for viewership. GOL TV recently renewed the La Liga rights in the US for three additional years taking away another potential ESPN target. Setanta just acquired the COMNEBOL (South American) World Cup qualifying rights for the US market as well.

MLS has been a poor performer for FSC as well, garnering viewership that is easily matched by morning infomercials and is almost matched by paid soccer related programming. But if ESPN is left only with MLS, perhaps more emphasis on promoting the league and the actual product rather than shouting about the importance of largely meaningless regular season games and over promotion of certain players will ensue for ESPN.

This is a massive development any way you look at it. FSC, contrary to rumors and ESPN spin is still in a strong enough financial position to challenge for major rights. With Copa Libertadoras rights and those to the CONCACAF Champions League, FSC /FOX will now hold the rights to the three continental championships of note in the US.  ESPN will be left with nothing outside of MLS, the US National Team (whose rights are often determined on a match by match basis) and FIFA events. FSC is only in about 35 million US homes but I’d fully expect News Corp to work on either getting FSC on more cable systems or carrying big games on regional FSN channels throughout the country.

FOX has made a clear statement of intent. They aim to be the network of record for football in the US. GOL TV continues to carve out a nice niche itself. Now the question is, how and will the sports empire that is ESPN strike back? ESPN after overpaying for Baseball and the BCS may not be in a position to strike back, however.


  • MLS Commissioner Don Garber has announced that MLS will not simply expand to Vancouver and Portland in 2011 but will add two more teams in 2012. It’s ironic that the MLS is so adverse to embracing the NASL’s legacy yet is now over expanding and diluting its on the field product. As the UEFA Champions League and European/Latin football become more accessible to American audiences the quality of play in MLS must improve to prevent the league from remaining a niche sport in most markets. Rapid expansion actually undermines the quality on the pitch, as many analysts have feared.
  • Miami FC will compete in USL-1 in 2009, but beyond is any one’s guess. My discussions from SPORTEL this past week lead me to believe Traffic Sports the multi billion dollar Brazilian Football promoters who own Miami FC are much more enamoured with USL as a league than South Florida as a market. In other words, Traffic will stick with USL but it is quite possible they will re-locate their franchise or buy into a future expansion team rather than keep Miami FC alive beyond 2009.
  • I like Seattle in tonight’s MLS opener. The pity is that watching tonight’s game will require missing perhaps the best weeknight of
    American sports all year, the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Count me as a channel surfer tonight.

22 thoughts on “FOX Steals UEFA C.L. Rights from ESPN”

  1. I’ll go with ESPN overpaying to keep Fox away from Champions League rights. FSC still isn’t on the same basic tier as ESPN Classic, not to mention ESPN and ESPN2, on most providers in America.

  2. Thank God.

    ESPN is a terrible sports network. I don’t just mean in terms of soccer coverage, they’re bad at EVERYTHING. Money and name recognition go a long way, but when watching sports on other channels (both here and abroad) you really see just how much effort ESPN puts into machismo, and how little they put into actual coverage. Tommy and Derek, despite being maligned by some soccer fans, were easily the best thing on ESPN aside from PTI (when Tony and Mike are in, otherwise screw it).

    It’s a pipe dream, but I would love Fox to grab the national team rights and put the team on the big network. It won’t happen anytime soon, but it would be wonderful.

  3. Let’s not be nasty about ESPN. They put up a lot of cash when no one else was willing to, and helped subsidise soccer in this country (as well as the career or yours truly.) Derek and Tommy are class, and so are the guys behind the scenes.

    As for FSC: Yes, HD is coming. But remember that a lot of CL broadcasts are not sent by pool in HD yet, so it’s not going to be immediate. And, if your cable network isn’t getting FSC, isn’t this a good opportunity for you to switch to one that does, or go to DTV/Dish? After all, that’s what I did when I wanted to see the games on ESPN2 about a decade ago.

  4. I dislike ESPN’s coverage of sports immensely. As someone who came of age in the 1980s when American sports were covered differently, ESPN and their impact on our culture is probably the primary reason I don’t like American pro sports anymore and prefer my local FSN affiliate or Raycom affiliate for College sports.

    My hope is that FSC will go HD and that they will show select broadcasts on regional FSN channels.

  5. ESPN has shown its true colors. They don’t care about soccer. The programs have just served as filers. Even though Derek and Tommy are good, they are probably ridiculed within the corporate/jockish culture of ESPN as too British or too foreign. I assume this means Deportes has lost rights also which makes that network more useless than ever. No FMF, No UEFA, No La Liga. Just Baseball and Boxing. They fit the stereotype of what Americans wish Latins were.

  6. ESPN can still get the EPL rights, no? The North American rights haven’t gone up for bid yet, and I figure ESPN felt they had to make a decision on either/or.

  7. Lots of news to comment on here:

    -If ESPN don’t win EPL rights it would be a coup for MLS. ESPN will have to concentrate on marketing the American league (although I liked some of their commercials like “you’re a fan you just don’t know it”)
    -I agree that the expansion is too much, too fast. However, if the expansion teams are from USL, wouldn’t they be able to keep the players that are under contract already? I don’t remember what the rules were for this, but a team like Montreal, which has a payroll close to MLS standards ($1.7 million), should be able to keep their core players.
    -FC New York LLC + Traffic Sports + Fred Wilpon = GREAT SUCCESS

  8. Traffic Sports markets games ala SUM. Obviously USL is an open market for them. They own the TV rights to a lot of CONCACAF and COMNEBOL events. They are huge and their presence in USL gives that league some credibility. But taking a team from let’s say an internationally recognizable city like Miami to I don’t know, St Louis or Ottawa hurts USL and Traffic abroad. Thus I think they will stick with Miami.

    The FSC news is shocking. UEFA has limited its exposure in the US jumping onto a network with 30 million subscribers as oppossed to a network with 110 million. Bad business move unless FSC can get on more cable systems.

  9. A`lot of news here Kartik. A huge day in American sport on the greatest weekend in American sports.

    I would have to agree with Jamie Treckers comments above. ESPN has made the CL relevant in American sports. Hoepfully FSC will keep America interested in it at the same level as ESPN. Production quality is very important for FSC.

    IT would be a negative overall for soccer in America if ESPN does not obtain some rights to the EPL. If the EPL stays with FSC then it is my belief that ESPN will drop the MLS and it’s growth and the American game will suffer. Yes, it will also effect the National Team.

    ESPN has it’s problems but it has had a profound positive impact on American sports and culture. I have been around long enough to remember life without ESPN. ESPN made NCAA BB and has greatly increased access for the average person to MLB, NBA, and Tennis. Prior to ESPN coverage of a major tennis open was weekends. Prior to ESPN NCAA BB was regional coverage only. It was boring! Prior to ESPN you had 3 minutes of sports news every night. Yes, our culture has changed and for the better. Do not be so quick to celebrate here ESPN haters.

  10. The expansion doesn’t bother me if the target is to bring in existing USL markets. I thought the deal Seattle had at first rights for the USL players really gave them a better chance at fielding a solid team compared to starting from scratch. The first game can be misleading but the former USL-Sounders (Nyassi, Le Toux, Scott) looked solid for the MLS Sounders last night. Plus pulling from an existing team does help to endear the new team to the city. I imagine Vancouver and Portland will follow a similar model. Taking a pre-existing team, adding some more international players, and using the greater exposure and reputation of the MLS looks to a model that will work well for Seattle.

  11. So Fox Sports Latin America will now have the Liberators Cup AND the UEFA CL? The 2 titanic football competitions? Plus the Club World Cup where these 2 champions will clash for world supremacy? Hats off to FSLA. Good on them (although it’s an earsore to hear the Hispanic commentators say “Fox Sports” in their thick accents).

    I highly doubt Fox will get the UEFA CL rights in the USA (that’s a whole lot of acronyms). How are they gonna pay for their investment? Their niche channel only gets 35 million viewers. FSN has lost afiliates to Comcast Sportsnet. The main Fox affiliates will not forego Judge Judy for Euro football (imagine housewives across America moaning about these weird nighttime matches being shown in the daytime). So I’m calling the bluff and betting 20 quid that the Fox family of networks will NOT get the UEFA CL anytime soon. It will stay on ESPN and everything will continue as it has.

    Whoever does show Euro football in the USA, however, better instead take the direct feed from Sky or ITV. PLEASE!!!!! I beg them!!! Why don’t they do that? ABC used to use the BBC feed for the World Cup (which was awesome). So what the hell??? WE WANT THE EURO COMMENTARY!!! Ugh.

    So let’s recap USA coverage of club football:


    Spanish: ESPN in Spanish
    English: ESPN and ESPN2

    Liberators Cup

    Spanish: Fox Sports in Spanish
    English: ??? (someone fill me in on this)


    Spanish: Univision networks
    English: Fox Channel

    Club World Cup

    Spanish: Fox Sports in Spanish
    English: Fox Channel

  12. I would have like to see Setanta get it im not going to pay for all these different soccer channels. Especially since Setanta wins out 90% of the time with EPL coverage.

  13. I didn’t see Trecker’s blog mention the *US* rights to the UEFA Champions league at all….and a quick google search found nothing independent on this. Meaning, every site I found linked back to this post–which link’s to trecker’s column which doesn’t mention the *US* rights at all. This is not a snarky post, seriously–did I miss something??

  14. Only 30 million people get FSC while over 100 million get ESPN, I guess I can’t watch the Champions League next year cause FSC is a paid channel

  15. First I’ve heard of this and I’ve yet to look for more recent news… but A) ESPN is a decent network when it comes to baseball and they used to be for hockey. They’re not all bad. and B) ESPN doesn’t cost more whereas FSC is a load of BS until it’s on the same level as ESPN. They want to steal away UEFA and maybe even Premier League and show it to who???!!??! Not a lot of people compared to the number who’d see it on ESPN.

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