Turner Sports and Champions League FAQ: Big changes for US soccer fans

Turner Sports has revealed more details regarding their coverage plans for the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League for sports fans in the United States.

And as we predicted in May, there are big changes.

In order to try to parse through all of the questions, I’ve written the following FAQ to help. If there are any questions not answered below, feel free to let us know in the comments section and we’ll do our best to update the article to make it even more comprehensive.

Q: First, what’s the news? What do I need to know?

A: In acquiring the US English-language TV and streaming rights to the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, Turner Sports will be the exclusive broadcaster of those games from the summer of 2018 through until the end of the 2021 season.

The most recent news it that Turner Sports has announced that more than 80% of games will be available via an over-the-top (OTT) paid-subscription streaming service, while fewer than 20% of games will be on TV each season.

The semi-finals and final of the Champions League will air on TBS or TNT. The Europa League final will air on TNT or TBS.

Turner’s UEFA Champions League coverage will include four live telecasts each week throughout the Group Stage (September through early December) – Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. ET – and two televised matches per week during the Knockout Phase (beginning in February) – Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 3 p.m. ET.

Q: Wait, what happened to the 2:45pm ET kickoff times?

A: Starting with the 2018/19 season, UEFA will have double-headers where there will no longer be games at 2:45pm ET. Instead, games will be scheduled for 1pm and 3pm ET on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the UEFA Champions League.

Q: What happened to FOX? Why won’t they have coverage?

A: FOX Sports lost the rights to the UEFA Champions League for the 2018/19 to 2020/21 seasons. FOX’s 2017/18 season will be their last as the broadcaster for the Champions League and Europa League in the United States.

Q: How many games does Fox actually air right now? During the group stage, I seem to remember they only provide 2-3 games a day.

A: On big matchdays, FOX usually has 4-5 games on via FS1, FS2, FOX Soccer Plus, FOX Sports Net and FOX Deportes. But they also sub-license games to ESPN, which air them on ESPN2 — so there can be as many as 6-7 games aired each gameday.

With Turner Sports, you can expect two games a day during the Champions League Group Stage and one game a day during the Knockout Stage.

Q: What details have been revealed regarding the commentators and talent that Turner Sports plans on hiring to broadcast the Champions League and Europa League to viewers in the US?

A: No details have been announced yet.

Q: What details have been announced about this over-the-top (OTT) paid subscription streaming service from Turner Sports?

A: The streaming platform hasn’t been launched yet, so very little is known. We can expect to see it launch during or prior to August 2018.

No details have been revealed regarding price.

Every single game of the UEFA Europa League will be on the streaming product except for the final on TBS or TNT. Approximately half of the UEFA Champions League games will be available exclusively on the streaming platform too.

Q: How is this any different than the current situation? You need FoxSoccer2Go in order to see all of the UCL games now.

A: The most dramatic change is for TV viewers. Currently during the Champions League group stage, you can expect to have as many as 12 games available per week on TV. With Turner, it’ll be four per week. Also, with the UEFA Europa League, FOX is currently broadcasting approximately 5-6 games during the Group Stage. With Turner, there’ll be zero Europa League games on TV until the final.

Q: What percentage of games are exclusive to FOX Soccer Match Pass today?

A: Currently, FOX Soccer Match Pass streams every single game of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League. But once Turner has the rights beginning in August 2018, FOX Soccer Match Pass will no longer have the rights to stream the games.

Currently, there are approximately 2-3 Champions League games per week that are exclusive to FOX Soccer Match Pass. For the UEFA Europa League, there may be as many as 6 or more that are exclusive on any given matchday.

Q: How many households are TNT, TBS and truTV in?

A: One of the benefits of having the Champions League and Europa League on Turner is the reach of their TV networks. Here are the number of households each channel is in (as of the summer of 2017):

TBS: 91 million
TNT: 90 million
truTV: 87 million

Q: Did Turner say how many Europa Lague games they will be showing on truTV during the Group Stage and Knockout Stage?

A: Yes, the answer is zero. The only Europa League game that will be shown on television is the final, which will be on TNT or TBS.

Q: I don’t understand why UEFA and the Premier League are giving these bids to these channels and allowing them to do this in a country where they are trying to build new viewers to these competitions. What non-soccer fan is going to pay for a subscription? Couple that with what soccer fan wants to continue to be taken for a ride with these paid subscriptions.

A: It’s a valid argument. The reality is that Turner is paying approximately $60 million per season for these rights, so they need to figure out a way to be profitable in a very difficult TV market.

Turner is probably anticipating that it can attract new fans through the broadcasts on truTV and then convert them into paying subscribers for the streaming platform.

Q: It looks like the top UEFA leagues will be featured heavily on truTV. Besides, no one cares for CSKA Moscow versus some random team in Greece.

A: There are people who care about CSKA Moscow versus Olympiakos, but the most important thing to remember is that there will be a lot of big matches played in the Champions League that won’t be on television. If truTV prioritizes games featuring Real Madrid against another opponent plus Barcelona against someone else, that means it’s very likely that a few of the other games featuring big teams won’t be on TV.

For example, let’s take a look at the 2016/17 Champions League season and the schedule of Round of 16 matches. Remember that Turner will show two games per week on TV during the knockout rounds:

March 7, 2017:

Napoli vs. Real Madrid
Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich

March 8, 2017:

Barcelona vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Dortmund vs. Benfica

In the above scenario, Turner (if they had the rights) would have only shown two of those games on TV, meaning the other two would be available exclusively on the streaming platform.

As you can see, it’s a very difficult decision. If Turner had the rights, the Arsenal-Bayern and Dortmund-Benfica games may have been available exclusively via streaming. And imagine how upset those fans would have been.

Q: I know most visitors to this site like streaming, but to me these developments are all a step back. In a few years, it’s not inconceivable that every soccer cup and domestic league will each require a separate subscription of some kind. Soccer fans will end up having to pay separately for everything just to watch soccer. This doesn’t include their spending for Netflix, Hulu and however they get regular channels. Eventually people will end up paying more for the same content (or less).

A: True. That’s the way the industry is heading very rapidly.

Read our article entitled It’s going to cost more to watch soccer after Turner’s Champions League deal for more insight.

Q: Are there any alternatives?

A: Yes, a major one is Univision who have the Spanish-language rights to the Champions League and Europa League in the United States. Univision will broadcast many of the games across Univision Deportes and UniMas, with the Champions League final being on Univision. You can expect that Univision will be putting many (or all) of the games not on television on UnivisionDeportes.com. If you don’t mind watching a soccer game with Spanish commentators, this could be an ideal solution for soccer fans.

Read more of our insight in our article entitled Univision Deportes poised to attract Champions League viewers turned off by Turner’s paywall.

Q: Are the highlights going to be free without a subscription online?

A: It appears that Bleacher Report will be airing the highlights on their website as well as social media.

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