ESPN has acquired the US media rights to Euro 2020 and its qualifiers, the UEFA Nations League and the European qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup, sources have confirmed to World Soccer Talk.
ESPN outbid FOX Sports, NBC Sports and beIN SPORTS for the rights in a deal that is worth more than $110 million, according to Sports Business Daily. World Soccer Talk also understands that there was an unnamed fifth bidder that was not a traditional TV network.
Regarding the news, a spokesperson for ESPN declined to comment. World Soccer Talk also contacted FOX Sports and CAA Eleven (the agency that represented UEFA in the bidding process) who both declined to comment.
According to a spokesman for NBC Sports, “the property was discussed, but we are focused on our long-term partnership with the Premier League.”
The bidding process lasted six months per sources. While the English-language rights will be going to ESPN, the Spanish-language rights have been picked up by Univision.
The acquisition of the rights is a huge move for ESPN and represents the growing popularity of the sport in the United States. On the heels of NBC Sports paying approximately $1 billion for the rights to the Premier League in a 6-year deal, today’s news means that ESPN will continue to be a formidable soccer network into the next decade.
What makes the acquisition by ESPN of the UEFA properties even more attractive is the inclusion of the Nations League, which is a brand-new competition from UEFA. The concept of the UEFA Nations League is to take the games that were previously friendlies played during international breaks, and turn them into competitive matches. The participating 54 European nations will be split into four divisions:
Division A: Four groups of 3 teams
Division B: Four groups of 3 teams
Division C: Two groups of 3 teams and 2 groups of 4 teams
Division D: Four groups of 4 teams
The national teams will be ranked according to their UEFA coefficient ranking and slotted into the appropriate groups. The nations will play each other in a round robin format until the final four teams will be determined. Those final four will then compete in a mini-tournament to decide who will win the UEFA Nations League.
The UEFA Nations League will be held every 2 years. So soccer fans will be able to enjoy World Cup 2018, followed by the Nations League that’ll begin in 2018 and end in 2019, Euro 2020, followed by the Nations League beginning in 2020 and ending in 2021 and finishing up with World Cup 2022 in Qatar.
The concept of turning what was previously considered rather meaningless friendlies into competitive matches, as well as incorporating promotion and relegation between the different groups, is genius.
ESPN currently has the US media rights to Euro 2016 as well as European qualifying matches for the competition (which FOX Sports sub-licensed a portion of). According to Sports Business Daily, ESPN currently pays $16M for both English and Spanish rights to the two European Championships.
Note that today’s news has nothing to do with the UEFA Champions League or UEFA Europa League. Those rights are currently held by FOX Sports in the United States.
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