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?

59 thoughts on “Who Will Win the US Media Rights to UEFA Champions League For 2015-2018?”

  1. As long as bein sport doesn’t get them, i don’t mind. I like bein sport and i think they do a great job, but they are so limited in what they can offer because they only have a couple of channels to use, of which i only get one of them.

  2. I really hate to keep bashing FOX, but it’s hard not to. The picture quality of their HD is great. For some reason NBC’s isn’t as clear as FOX. But that’s the only plus for FOX.

    I gave their new CL pre-game show a chance and it’s just amateur hour. A bunch of people who think they’re funny and cool (except McBride who looks asleep). The analysis of the players and matches are juvenile.

    I would take any network over FOX…even BEin Sport.

    And as far as I know, we still have Gus coming once college football ends. Or has there been any word of Gus being axed from CL matches?

    1. One should expect Gus to call UEFA CL on FOX Sports 1 starting in mid-March, after he is done calling the new Big East basketball tournament in New York. (FYI: Gus and Bill Raftery will call the primary Big East games on FS1. )

      I don’t get all the complaints about FOX. If you don’t like the FOX announcers or the studio shows, then use the mute button. Very simple to do.

      1. Isn’t it possible that we don’t like Fox commentary but would still like to listen commentary? Of course, we can mute, but most people would prefer to listen to a well presented, well pronounced match. It’s just stupid to pretend like bad commentary is not a problem because you can mute it.

  3. Call me cynical, but imo oil ($$) trumps everything. If beIN SPORT want them they’ll get them.

    Personally, I am for whoever doesn’t have Gus.

    1. IMO beIN has virtually no chance of being selected by UEFA for the US rights to the CL in any language because UEFA will not necessary take the highest bid but will consider:

      “…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.”

      beIN might have a shot at the EL, particularly in Spanish, if neither FOX Deportes, ESPN Deportes, Univision Deportes Network, nor mun2 want it.

      The EL doesn’t sell in the U.S. in any language.

      1. I said I was being cynical. UEFA has never given anything but lip service to the idea that in the end, money is what really matters.

        I hope, in this case, they rise above themselves, but wouldn’t bet a nickel on it.

  4. I hope FOX doesn’t get the rights again! Their coverage has been very sub-par. Many times they show the same match on their English channel as in the Spanish one. The Spanish commentary is awful IMO and FOX Sports 1 has the annoying ticker and they say the other matches scores during the live broadcast. I would prefer that either ESPN or NBC gets the rights! Or a joint bid will be even better between any two companies.

  5. I would prefer ESPN or NBC to Fox but I’m probably in the minority in that I would take FOX over BeIN without a second thought. To me, production quality and platform are far more important than the pre-match talking heads.

  6. “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.”

    Which channels other than NBCsn would they preempt daytime programming on for Champions League matches? Bravo? USA? Or would they create Champions League Extra Time and we have to hope our provider picks them up? I prefer the current arrangement with FS1, FS2, FSN… And if they can add ESPN2 in to the mix that’d be perfect.

      1. E! and USA too, plus they could create Champions League Extra Time channels in addition to live coverage via NBC Sports Live Extra.

      2. CNBC is way too important and influential in the business world and financial markets to be pre-empted during weekday business hours. Even Olympic coverage doesn’t air on CNBC until the markets close for the day.

      3. CNBC is not available for live sports on weekday afternoons during stock market hours.

        UEFA CL is not even close to being “big” enough (i.e. at the level of the Olympics) to justify pre-empting regular programming on MSNBC, Bravo, USA, SyFy, E!, or the Golf Channel.

        If NBC were win the CL in English, then one would expect one match on NBCSN and the rest on “Extra Time” overflow channels, with a highlights show on NBCSN sometime after midnight.

        I am not convinced that NBC will be willing to (over)pay for the UEFA CL.

        1. That’s pretty much my thought. One game live and the rest online or overflow channels if you’re lucky enough to get them. Fox still has the most legitimate bandwidth and their Fox Sports Online app should be ready by then

          1. The distribution issue is another reason why I am not convinced that UEFA will dump FOX for NBC for the CL in English, unless NBC were willing to (over)bid FOX by a substantial margin.

            In English, FOX can offer:

            – FOX Sports 1 (90m subs)
            – FOX Sports 2
            (about 40m subs)
            – FOX Soccer Plus
            (1m subs)
            – FOX Sports Regional Networks and affiliates
            (about 60m subs)

            NBC can offer:

            – NBC Sports Network (85m subs)
            – Comcast SportsNet Regional Networks (about 60 million subs assuming full clearance; however, Comcast doesn’t own a majority stake in many CSNs as the local pro teams do.)

        2. We’ll see. No one thought NBC would be in the serious running for Premier League coverage and we see how that turned out.

          1. EPL provided NBCSN with 9 months (out of 12 each year) of original programming almost every week (about 34 weeks each year of live programming on weekends and taped programming during the week.)

            THE UEFA CL only offers 17 weeks of original programming each year, with only one live event on a weekend (the final.)

            Again, I am not convinced that NBC will “break the bank” on a product that appears to be “complementary” (i.e. nice to have, but not 100% necessary) instead of “core”.

    1. If NBC got the rights they weekday matches wouldn’t be able to be on MSNBC or CNBC, so the first choice match would have to be on NBCSN, second choice on USA, third choice Bravo, maybe a fourth match on Universal Sports if NBC could bring that network more into the fold by the time they would have the rights and possibly make that NBCSN2. Then the rest of the matches they could use the EPL Extra time channels and the online service.

  7. Deep down inside, I am hoping NBC wins, if they do not win, then ESPN should get it. Why? Simply because of online content! Who wants to pay for FoxSoccer2Go? Not Me! NBC and ESPN will be able to give you access to all the games online. Most people are on the go, who here is at home around 2:45 to watch a UCL game (well unless you work from home). I am tired of FOX, its bad enough they got the WC rights but they are bad for soccer! Oh and no more Gus Johnson!!!

  8. How long after the deadline will the accepted bid be announced? Can’t recall the timeline with the Premier League and NBC…

    1. It could be days or weeks. There’s always the chance that UEFA could have another round of bidding if some of the initial bids (and proposals) are “too close to call.”

  9. Honestly, I don’t think I care who wins. Anyone who wins will have spent enough money that they’ll do a good job with the coverage. I also don’t worry about beIN winning. They would love to have an expanded lineup of channels and be on everyone’s cable/satellite. They just don’t currently have a big enough package of programming to force the carriers to act. If they have Champions League, they’ll get on everyone’s package.

    In fact….that’s it. I predict beIN to win. Not only do they have money, but they have the biggest upside because gaining Champions League probably gets them onto everyones TV for all their other programming.

    It’ll be interesting to see how the grow of US rights for soccer cause player salaries to balloon. Even though it’ll take more get the winning bid, they’re still only expecting it to be in the $100MM range. That’s still small money. BT just paid ~£300/year for the UK rights. If the US was similarly interested in soccer, you could sell those Champions League rights for ~$2 billon annually. Have fun trickling that money down to the top four clubs.

    1. I have it on good authority that BeIn will bid for the rights… the Sheik has put BeIn on a budget over the last six months and hasn’t thrown any silly money around…( note production staff/ infomercials ect..) so I would think they would not be a shoe in.. Especially if UEFA are looking at the potential viewership.


      1. UEFA might go with beIN for the EL, particularly in Spanish, because the EL doesn’t sell in the U.S. (live games average less than 50K viewers on FS1, less than 10K viewers on FS2, and less than 10K viewers on ESPND.)

        There is virtually no chance UEFA will let beIN within breathing distance of the US rights to the CL in either language. UEFA will NOT commit “brand suicide”.

        1. 2015 is a long way away. It’s possible that beIn might make more inroads by then. So i wouldn’t count them out entirely. They could win the rights and then sublicense to others in markets where they don’t have a presence.

  10. Besides Fox, ESPN, NBC, and BeIn for the English rights I just can’t see any other network going after it. CBS joint with Turner Sports would get you CBS Sports Network, TNT, TBS, and TruTV and CBS for the final.

    I see Univision getting the Spanish rights which would be amazing because their would probably be 2 free over the air matches a week on Univision proper and then matches on Univision Deportes, Galavision, and UniMas.

    1. Turner Sports would have to be the most surprising if they made a bid, considering they’ve never gone into the soccer realm, but they do have a great track record.

      Exactly how the NCAA tournament simulcasts of multiple games is already proven with the TBS, TNT, TruTV formula. I’d also definitely be all for an unfiltered/uncensored review/highlights film show on HBO, similar to when HBO had the rights to “Inside the NFL”, would be very interesting to see match highlights integrated with Dressing Room and Dugout clips.

      1. NBC had never delved into socnetworks with or in the Olympics. Tuner Sports just lost NASCAR to NBC and could lose the NBA to Fox leaving them MLB and the NCAA Tournament, so they maybe looking for some more programming, but I would think it would be a joint bid because all of the sports they have covered has been with other networks. NBA with ESPN, NASCAR with ESPN and FOX, NCAA Tournament with CBS, and MLB with FOX and ESPN.

  11. As much as I want NBC to win it, I’m sure I’m in the minority in wanting to see them win CCL rights when those come up. It would probably help the CCL, NBC, and MLS. So I’m hoping NBC doesn’t win and goes after the CCL as back up

  12. I would love to see NBC give the same treatment they have given to the premier league to the champions league… I hope they do… I just have a feeling Fox and ESPN want some competitive football in their inventory and this is the way they get it.. I would expect a joint bid with the possibility of even Directv playing a part.

    On the subject of crap announcers I heard Gus Johnson in an interview state he would be back in Europe next year to call some matches…he thinks he did a good job in the Gold Cup. So it looks like when the important games are back we will have to deal with this amateur idiot all over again, or stream!


  13. I’d like to see NBC win it because they would best be able to showcase the UCL. They have great distribution with so many networks- they could air simultaneous games on NBCSN and CNBC/Telemundo. Their online streaming platform is solid and more importantly, free. Also, unlike ESPN/Fox they have the available inventory to show the all-important Champions League Highlights show and replays of games.

  14. I don’t like FOX having it to be honest, their pre/post-game crew is pretty bad, especially in the Europa League coverage where it’s basically comic hour (I know Europa League isn’t popular, especially the group stage, but show some professionalism at least, the laugh over the highlights and make fun of teams from the less traditional leagues). I don’t like the ticker and as I mentioned many times before, I don’t like their selection of matches. I know ratings are important but there is no reason (in my opinion) to show matches like Manchester United vs. Cluj or Chelsea vs. Steaua Bucharest over matches of more importance.

    The only positive of FOX is actually the regional network, MSG+ where I live, actually shows many games and a highlights show and it’s never pre-empted for women’s college basketball or stuff like that 😀 Fox Deportes also does a good job, shows pretty much every game during the course of the week.

    As for other networks, I would hope ESPN goes for it, simply because of ESPN3 and the hope they would archive the games for at least a week. I’m not a big fan of ESPNs pundits but I can live with them at least.

    I actually like BeIN Sports but they don’t have enough viewers to win the bid no matter what money they throw.

  15. Firstly, congratulations Christopher on the various pieces of news broken in this article regarding the bidding tender. It’s added some vital pieces of information into the discussion regarding CL/EL rights.

    Just a few points raised from the discussion here:
    1) I agree with Morocco Mole’s comment about NBC’s possible distribution of games. CNBC & MSNBC can’t be used due to business/news programming dominating both during CL/EL timeslots. Bravo/SyFy/E!/etc won’t be touched unless absolutely necessary (eg; EPL Championship Sunday) due to the skew of their networks. IMO, the only network I can see apart from NBCSN being used is USA Network as an outlet for 2nd choice games (what FS2 does now). I could also see NBC maybe airing some games if they’re modelling the UFEA coverage around what they promised the EPL in regards to more exposure. Mind you since local stations have syndicated programming in afternoons (eg; Ellen, Dr Phil) it’s a harder task to clear time for games to air.

    2) If NBC does get both CL/EL rights, I think they would extend the agreements they have currently with cable/satellite providers to use the existing EPL Extra Time channels for overflow games. They might also find it easier to add a extra channel or two to cover all the games, seeing unlike Saturday’s – there isn’t a ton of sporting events until primetime that the overflow channels used for Extra Time need to handle.

    3) I don’t think beIN Sport has any chance of getting these rights unless they bid an amount that would make the BT Sport deal look tiny (not in terms of cash amount, but in a ratio perceptive). I say that strictly because of the criteria UEFA will be looking at. beIN has a problem which frankly they’ve caused themselves, which I’ve discussed time-and-time again – they have too many rights for their own good. At the moment, they find it hard to juggle giving proper live coverage to most of the leagues they have rights to & instead putting them on a streaming platform which has limited access. If I was UEFA, I would have serious concerns based on this on not only how coverage would be handled/presented, but the limited access to games people would have.

    To answer the question posed at the end of the article, I would like to see either NBC or ESPN (without FOX) get the rights purely on a production quality and streaming capabilities they would both be able to offer. Although I think unless NBC surprises everyone again with another significant bid (IMO, any % over the previous price won’t be as big as the EPL % gain was), FOX/ESPN will get the rights with FOX being the main partner (hence FS1 would get 1st choice of games).

    1. Great points Jeff. Just one additional thought — it’s estimated that the rights for the UEFA Champions League will go for $100million per season, so the $300million total is greater than the $250,000million NBC paid for the Premier League 3-year rights deal. And the Premier League has far more games (380) per season than the Champions League.

      1. Sports Business Daily (http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Daily/Closing-Bell/2013/12/02/UEFA.aspx) is also reporting that $100 million figure for the rights. Adding to that, if one network gets both the CL/EL packages then it could be $110 – $130 million for both each year based on the low value EL TV rights have previously gone for. It makes NBC’s EPL deal seem like a bargain in terms of a value against content ratio.

        The SBD article also says Fox will make a “significant bid” and NBC will be an “aggressive bidder” – make of that what you will.

      2. $100m/season for US rights to UCL in English would be absolutely “insane” unless that winning bidder has a need to use UCL to increase the distribution of a network significantly.

        Recall that FOX reportedly bid $13m/season for US rights to UCL in all languages in 2009, and ESPN, Inc. believed at the time that FOX was crazy. FOX could justify that bid because FOX wanted to move FOX Soccer from the sports tier to expanded basic (and double the number of subscribers.)

      3. Also note that Univision currently pays about $95m/season for Chivas Guadalajara home matches (at least 17 Liga MX matches, at least 6 Copa MX matches, and a handful of friendlies played on U.S. soil.)

        (All the Liga MX U.S. video rights should add up to around $200-220m/season.)

        Unless I am missing something,
        $100m/season for US rights to UCL in English only (not counting Spanish) would be totally “insane”. I figured that $50-60m/season would be the upper limit for a “disciplined” bidder unless that bidder has a business plan to use the UCL to increase the subscriber base of one of its TV channels significantly (the way FOX was planning using both EPL and UCL to push FOX Soccer from the sports tier to expanded basic when FOX bid for the UCL in 2009.)

  16. Okay so let’s look at this realistically, its either Fox or ESPN getting the rights. Leaning more towards Fox because they have less money tied to college sports than ESPN. However, the report does knock out bEIN from pushing the price up. NBC can be credited with having an effect on rights in that making every game available on a non-sports tier package and online has pushed up the popularity and given UEFA a blueprint to follow. One more thing, Fox Soccer Plus probably goes onto life support no matter the outcome; can no longer justify its existence.

    1. On the contrary, FOX Soccer Plus will have plenty of inventory to justify its continuing existence:

      – Dutch Eredivisie starting August 2014 (for 11 seasons)
      – German Bundesliga starting August 2015 (for 4 seasons)

      1. Its the deadman walking because it sits on a sports tier package on most major carriers. If it is not apparent by now, having the coverage of your league now on such a tier is a step backwards since NBC has moved their coverage off of it. Yeah you can but the Man City game on Fox Soccer Plus, but now who is going to wait to watch a replay of it later on the non sports tier channels? In the long run, its dead because another outlet is needed for the expanded rights at Fox. Since FS+ is on a sports tier, it does not generate the revenue of a standard package channel. So it will face the ax one way or the other.

        1. Fox Soccer Plus will probably continue and will prosper as long as it keeps on showing rugby. The name of the channel is now outdated. It should be Fox Sports Plus. Or Fox Rugby Plus.

          The name “FOX Soccer Plus” is misleading IMHO. It’s not a strong sell for soccer fans. If you think different, please let me know. I’m still waiting for my Comcast to offer the channel so I’ve never seen a minute of it.

        2. Speaking for myself, I really enjoy FS+. In addition to any CL or Europa matches, I get (or will get)SPFL, Eridivisie and Bundesliga for soccer, loads of rugby (both Union and League) and Aussie Rules as well.

          Considering that FS+ is in a Sports Package with 36 other channels, many of which I watch, the $9 per month fee is the best deal in cable TV. Time Warner actually got that one right. 😉

  17. Just my opinions of different options:

    FOX- Coverage is poor and undeserving of UEFA football. I can’t stand watching it. The only upside for me is that I get one of the lower tier games on ROOT Sports in addition to the FS1 coverage. Also, I often disagree with the way they assign matches to the different channels.

    ESPN- A lot of memories for me. First soccer game I ever watched was a CL game on ESPN2. Yes, I’m still a firm advocate for the pair of Derek Rae & Tommy Smyth. Anyway, I think access to ESPN’s online streaming could be key. I do think this time around ESPN would need to use both ESPN & ESPN2 for added exposure.

    NBC- I definitely think this could work. Outside of CNBC & MSNBC I see no reason why other NBC-owned channels couldn’t be used. Daytime television is mainly reruns on those channels. I also think the Extra Time channels would work too if they work cleaned up. The other issue though is that they would need more staff. There have already been articles concerning burnout for the EPL crew. No way you can ask them to take extra responsibilities.

    BeIN- No, just no. They just seem like a giant, over-priced cluster-you know what.

    I do want to comment on something interesting I saw. CBS & Turner while never having done soccer (In my lifetime) would probably give UEFA the best exposure. However, we know that a bid from these folks is never going to happen. Always fun to think what could be.

    1. ESPN Commentators were the best! Derek Rae & Tommy Smyth! And Fernando Palomo on the Spanish broadcast was THE best commentator! WAY better than John Laguna any day of the week!

  18. As much as i like the FOX/ESPN Combined bid, that means we’d have to deal with: Rob Stone, Eric Wynalda and Co. again, Alexi Lalalalalas as a new UCL Pundit, and that guy Gus on commentary. Doesn’t sound as appealing anymore, we cannot win.

  19. I am on my knees praying NBC gets Champions League rights. They are doing unbelievable work with BPL. Hopefully, MLS wises up and gives NBC exclusive rights in 2015.

    NBC is trying to become America’s soccer network and they are doing it right way.

    If only they had the World Cup instead of FOX.

  20. As many have mentioned, I would go for Fox given the choice, just because of the number of games available live. The only caveat would be, if they could make some sort of condition where their other media coverage had to be on par with NBC Sports extra time where all games are streaming with removed paywall.

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