The recent report by Sports Business Daily that the Premier League has asked US broadcasters to bid on separate 3-year and 6-year options to try to acquire the rights to the Premier League is bad news for soccer fans.
The Premier League has always sold its US rights packages in 3-year deals, but has added the opportunity for broadcasters — for the first-time ever — to enter 6-year bids.
The current Premier League rights deal with NBC Sports expires at the end of the 2015/16 season, so interested media companies — NBC, ESPN, FOX, beIN SPORTS and others — are bidding on the 2016/17 to 2019/20 rights, and have the option to try to secure the 2016/17 to 2022/23 rights if the Premier League decides to accept a deal that “blows them out of the water.”
So why is the 6-year option bad news for soccer fans, and why is the Premier League even considering that option?
The Premier League knows the market conditions in the United States. They know that the Premier League is the most popular English-language soccer league in the United States. And, more importantly, they know that FOX Sports, ESPN and NBC desperately want the rights.
ESPN desperately wants it because, after the Euro 2016, the Bristol, CT-based company is practically out of the soccer rights business other than select MLS, USMNT and World Cup qualifiers.
FOX Sports wants it because they know it would be the crown jewel of their club soccer rights. They’re still rueing the day when they lost the Premier League TV rights to NBC, which resulted in FOX Sports shutting down FOX Soccer and changing their strategies. Plus, FOX Sports is on an aggressive strategy to gobble up as many rights as possible to try to bolster the TV viewing audiences for the laggard FOX Sports 2 and to try to make FOX Sports 1 a force in a competitive space.
On top of that, sports rights are at a premium because (1) fewer people are watching television, but sports remains one of the few major attractions that people tune in to watch live, and (2) there aren’t a lot of rights available for sports properties as leagues have secured long-term deals with broadcasters, so there’s a lot more competition. The supply is little. The demand is great.
So the juggernauts that are ESPN and FOX Sports want the Premier League, but for differing reasons.
At the same time, NBC Sports desperately wants to hold on to the Premier League. Without the league, NBC Sports Group would have no rights to major soccer competitions. Also, the ratings and viewing numbers for NBCSN would take a massive hit across the network after the Premier League really put NBCSN, the network, on the map.