By this Friday, several media corporations will have submitted their final bids for the US media rights to the 2013-16 Premier League seasons. To many, it may seem just like any other TV rights auction, but this one could have a major impact not only on the growth of the Premier League but also the rise in popularity of soccer in the United States.
Being the most popular English-language soccer league in the United States, the Premier League has enjoyed tremendous growth during the last five years. TV ratings have never been higher. The summer tours by English teams on American soil have never been more popular. Social media has been eating it up, and even the acronym EPL has become du jour in some circles.
All of the success and growth, however, could come to an abrupt halt next August. Depending on who wins the US media rights auction, our dependable access to the Premier League could come to an end. If beIN SPORT wins the rights, there’s no guarantee that every match will be available, and there’s no guarantee that every consumer will be able to access it via their TV provider (although beIN SPORT is working hard to negotiate and expand its distribution). At the same time, there are still plenty of question marks about the future of FOX Soccer with the much discussed FOX Sports 1 and FOX Sports 2 being rumored as future networks to replace FOX’s niche soccer and racing channels.
At the same time, depending on how much the winning bidder will pay for the rights, there’s the likelihood that we, as consumers, may end up paying more for the access to watch games beginning next season.
With so much riding on the line, we should anticipate that change is on the horizon — whether it’s the status quo or a new Premier League rights owner.
If FOX Soccer does lose the rights to the Premier League, you’re left with a network who has achieved most of its success as a direct result of being a go-to destination for Premier League followers in the United States. Without the Premier League, there’s little reason for FOX Soccer to exist as a solitary soccer network except for occasional mid-week Champions League and Europa League matches. With the Premier League for 2013-16, FOX Soccer would be well positioned to continue as THE soccer network in the United States, leading perfectly into the 2016 Women’s World Cup and building up to the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup tournaments, which FOX has the rights to.
Just as La Liga and Serie A have suffered a blow considering that its matches this season are not as accessible as in previous years, the Premier League could suffer the same fate beginning next season. Love them or hate them, FOX Soccer has raised the bar with its coverage of the Premier League, and has brought the game into the homes of 1 million+ more people thanks to its coverage on the free-to-air network alongside, gulp, its NFL coverage. That’s something that beIN SPORT cannot come close to achieving.