Who Will Win the US Media Rights to UEFA Champions League For 2015-2018?

The deadline to submit bids and final presentations is tomorrow for US media rights to the next round of UEFA Champions League coverage, which will span the 2015-16 to 2017-18 seasons.

Current rights holder FOX Sports is expected to try to hold on to the rights, but faces fierce competition from a couple of new faces in bidding for the prestigious UEFA Champions League rights.

First things first, we can exclusively reveal to you that the number of packages available for bidding has increased this year to break out the English-language and Spanish-language rights separately. In leaked documents, we’ve discovered that there will be four separate packages to bid on. They are:

1. UEFA Champions League/UEFA Super Cup package — in English,
2. UEFA Champions League/UEFA Super Cup package — in Spanish,
3. UEFA Europa League package — in English, and
4. UEFA Europa League package — in Spanish.

Second, here’s the kicker. According to the confidential documents from UEFA, the soccer body won’t be just looking at the highest bid. The Invitation to Submit Offer document reveals:

“For the sake of clarity, it is confirmed that UEFA is not under any obligation to accept the highest financial bid for the media rights.”

Also note the criteria that UEFA will be considering:

“…distribution channels (for instance television channels, websites) to be used, programming plans, coverage and level of exposure, to include anticipated audience and estimated market share.”

While it’s good news that UEFA is looking out for the best interests of its brand, advertisers and soccer fans by ensuring that the eventual rights winner will have the ability to showcase the Champions League to as many viewers as possible, it’s bad news for beIN SPORT since the sports network currently has limited distribution channels. Al Jazeera has the following properties: beIN SPORT, beIN SPORT Espanol and beIN SPORT Play. However, its ‘Play’ online streaming product is only available via a small number of TV providers.

Now that we know more details about the criteria that UEFA is looking for, which media giants in the United States are bidding for the rights? That’s the difficult part because the bids are confidential, so it’s a silent bid where even some of the sports networks don’t know who they’re bidding against or what the amount of the competing bids are. What we do know is, thanks to the success of its coverage and ratings for the Premier League, NBC will be bidding for the UEFA Champions League. The acquisition of the Champions League would give NBCSN a massive leg-up for its quantity and quality of soccer coverage. Plus the mid-week afternoon games would slot perfectly into NBCSN as well as the full breadth of other NBC-owned networks where other lives UCL games can be shown.

The remaining bidders have been silent. It’s purely conjecture, but I wouldn’t be surprised if FOX and ESPN make a joint bid to try to win the UEFA Champions League rights, similar to what they did for the Premier League TV rights (but ultimately were outbid by NBC Sports Group). The relationship between FOX and ESPN, nicknamed FOSPN by some, is so cozy that ESPN has invited FOX executives to join them in Rio next summer to see how ESPN handles its production. FOX has the rights to World Cup tournaments 2018 and 2022, while FOX and ESPN will share the US media rights to the Euro 2016 qualifying games.

In another example of how FOX and ESPN have been working closely together as of late, ESPN signed a sub-license deal with FOX Sports last week to broadcast live UEFA Champions League games in Spanish on ESPN Deportes Radio.

Other than FOX (who has held the UCL rights since 2009), ESPN (which had the UCL rights from 1994 to 2008), beIN SPORT and NBC, there’s always the possibility of surprise bidders, much like how Universal/NBC came out of practically nowhere to scoop up the Premier League rights.

Whichever media giants are involved in the bidding, you can guarantee that executives at those companies will be rushing around today to put the finishing touches on their presentations and bids before the final deadline of Noon ET on Tuesday, December 3. Then it’s up to UEFA to review the proposals and bids, and then to select a winner.

As a soccer fan, which network would you like to see broadcasting the UEFA Champions League and Europa League games between 2015-18? And, your personal preferences aside, which of the networks do you think will win the rights?

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