While many English-language sportswriters and sports business reporters in the U.S. were caught by surprise by Turner Sports’ $180 million winning bid for the U.S. English-language media rights for the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League for August 2018-May 2021, this seemingly bold move by Turner Sports appears to this long-time observer of the U.S. sports media business to be part of a plan that was formulated by Turner Sports executives at the start of this decade.
Ever since Turner Sports won the rights in April 2010 to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball tournament in a joint bid with CBS Sports, Turner Sports has been looking for another sports TV product with a predominately young male audience (ages 18-34) to bolster truTV, which aired its first live sports event with four “First Four” basketball games from University of Dayton Arena in March 2011. (Some readers may recall that former British Prime Minister David Cameron attended one of the “First Four” basketball games in Dayton as a guest of former U.S. President Barack Obama, and that Cameron alluded to the similarities between the NCAA basketball tournament and the English F.A. Cup in an interview conducted by truTV basketball co-commentator Clark Kellogg.)
Sportswriter Jon Wilner of San Jose Mercury News wrote the following on March 11, 2011 in his College Hotline blog:
Turner’s involvement with the NCAA Tournament — specifically: its interest in building TruTV — indicates that it may come to the negotiating table (for PAC-12 Conference media rights), perhaps with a partner.
Described by one source as being “as hungry as anyone,” Turner is well aware (through its experience with the NBA on TBS/TNT) that showing live sports content allows it to charge more for subscriber fees.
Having one week of college basketball on truTV each year is clearly NOT enough for Time Warner, the parent company of Turner Broadcasting and Turner Sports, to charge a premium monthly subscriber fee for truTV, in comparison to Turner Broadcasting’s entertainment TV channels with live sports coverage, namely TNT, which airs National Basketball Association regular season and playoff games, and TBS which airs Major League Baseball regular season and playoff games:
Since 2011, Turner Sports had several opportunities to submit bids for video rights to sports properties with young male audiences, namely “Power 5” college football and basketball products, but Turner Sports had not been successful in landing the rights to any of those properties.
However, a shift in programming priorities at FOX Sports, which held the U.S. English-language (and Spanish-language) video rights to the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League since August 2009, gave Turner Sports the opening to land a live sports TV product to bolster truTV.
Specifically, FOX Sports hired former NBC and ESPN production executive Jamie Horowitz to run FOX Sports’ English-language U.S. networks FS1 and FS2. Horowitz, who was credited with launching “manufactured debate” sports talk programs at the ESPN networks such as First Take and SportsNation, spent millions of dollars to hire sports talk talent away from competitors. High-profile talent hired by Horowitz include Colin Cowherd (who moved his show The Herd to air on FS1 on weekdays at 12 noon-3pm Eastern Time starting September 2015) and Doug Gottlieb (who has signed with FOX Sports to move his show from CBS Sports Network to FS1 on weekdays at 3pm-6 pm Eastern Time starting April 24, 2017.)