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It’s going to cost more to see soccer after Champions League deal

Turner Sports’ announcement on Thursday regarding how it’ll distribute the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League for the next seasons will have one major impact — it’s going to cost soccer fans more to watch the Beautiful Game than ever before.

In 2018, Turner Sports will launch a new online sports platform where about 80% of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League games will be aired during the 2018-2019 competitions. The price for this as-of-yet-unnamed streaming service hasn’t been disclosed, as of press time. But the net effect will be that it’ll cost soccer fans to pay more to watch what they’ve been accustomed to seeing on TV.

The Turner networks will offer four UEFA Champions League games a week during the group stage on truTV, which as of July 2017 is in 87 million households. This is greater distribution than the current primary rights carrier FS1. But for the matches where we’ve been accustomed to seeing them available via FOX on FS2, ESPN2 or the FOX Sports Regional Networks, Turner will place those behind the OTT sports platform paywall.

Most knockout stage matches will be aired as well on truTV but critically some will fall to the OTT sports platform. The semifinals and finals will be shown on TBS or TNT.

Except for the final, UEFA Europa League matches will be placed entirely behind the OTT sports platform paywall, which is a massive change for fans accustomed to getting between two to four matches a week live-to-air on FS1 and/or FS2, as well as other games across the ESPN networks.

When FOX acquired the UEFA Champions League and Europa League rights, they were in a different place compared to Turner Sports today. FOX needed programming to fill the schedule of FS1 and FS2. And UEFA competitions have provided live midweek sports action to air on dedicated sports channels since 2013. Turner, on the other hand, does not have a dedicated sports channel in its portfolio and is using these types of properties to build it’s pay service and build relevance to Bleacher Report’s website.

Additionally, the UEFA Super Cup will be shown on TBS or TNT.

Today’s announcement by Turner Sports continues a trend for soccer properties to be placed behind streaming pay walls. Earlier this summer, NBC Sports announced the move of about a third of the Premier League matches previously available with a cable subscription on Premier League Extra Time or the NBC Sports App to an annual subscription package. BAMTech acquired the rights to the English Championship and have taken matches previously on-air via beIN SPORTS and placed them on ESP3 for this season, but next year they very well might place these matches on Disney’s new streaming service.

“The launch of Turner’s new OTT sports platform and partnership with UEFA aligns with the company’s continued strategy to further expand the distribution ecosystem and our ongoing commitment to engage fans with premium content they crave across all platforms,” said David Levy, President, Turner. “These highly-anticipated matches and supplemental original programming will be a key foundation for our latest direct to consumer business sports offering, as well as coveted content for Bleacher Report and our leading television networks. In addition to the new audiences we’ll attract through the streaming service, the partnership will leverage the tremendous reach we have with our television networks and Bleacher Report’s position as the leading digital destination for millennial fans.”

Levy’s statement lays out Turner’s thinking with regards to this property. However his quote may convey a basic misunderstanding of the expectations of American-based English-language dominant soccer fans who for the last few years have had easy access to matches via FOX Sports and ESPN networks. The Turner strategy also assumes that millennials will embrace a pay service despite research indicating that large portions of soccer fans are turning to illegal streams. The network also hopes to leverage this property into increased traffic from soccer fans and millennials to Bleacher Report, something FOX failed to do with its own, more established soccer web presence.

Bleacher Report will have access to ancillary video content from UEFA much the same way FOXSports.com currently does. It is also assumed the current programming FS1 and FS2 shows related to UEFA competitions will either end up behind the OTT paywall or on the Bleacher Report site.

Turner Sports announcement pours some cold water on the excitement many soccer fans felt months ago when it was reported that incumbent FOX Sports had lost the UEFA club competition rights. FOX’s coverage has been a lightning rod for fans and the assumption is Turner could and would do better in its presentation style and commentary. However, given the amount of money Turner invested in the property, it was perhaps inevitable that like NBC, they would seek to recoup part of this investment in selling a pay service to soccer fans.

Unfortunately, the bigger picture from all of this means less soccer is going to ultimately be available on your television and the cost of being a hardcore fan of the sport in the country just went up, again. The balance between cable television and digital pay platforms continues to evolve in this era of cord-cutting. It is very possible NBC Sports, Disney/ESPN, Turner and other distributors will find a model that allows them to bring high-level soccer competitions into our homes economically in this era. But it also without question means for those with traditional cable packages, you are going to be paying more and more to watch soccer and follow your favorite clubs.

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32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. Spunky

    August 18, 2017 at 9:36 am

    These games will probably not be shown in sports bars. Will bar owners pay for an additional TV service with a limited audience in the USA? I doubt it.

    • Oliver Tse

      August 18, 2017 at 10:04 am

      Sports bars will have access to all matches shown on Univision Deportes Network (DIRECTV Ch. 464) and UniMas (DIRECTV Ch. 408).

      Most sports bars also have truTV (DIRECTV Ch. 246), TBS (DIRECTV Ch. 247), and TNT (DIRECTV Ch. 245)

      Sports bars are not allowed to purchase over-the-top packages at residential rates.

      • CTBlues

        August 18, 2017 at 10:27 am

        Well they wont be showing Europa League games in US bars then.

        • Oliver Tse

          August 18, 2017 at 12:18 pm

          US sports bars have access to Univision Deportes Network and UniMas via DIRECTV.

          Buffalo Wild Wings buys lots of advertising on Univision Deportes Network. Those restaurants all have DIRECTV and have access of Univision Deportes Network.

  2. Ivan

    August 17, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    So, basically, Turner Sports getting the CL and EL rights is a massive step backwards for distribution of top level European football in the US.

    Well, at least there’s Univision platforms and other means of watching those games.

    Same as the NBC greediness- I will NOT pay an extra dime on top of what I am already paying to cable companies to watch the games that I care about.
    There are other ways to watch them.

    May Turner Sports burn in hell. (yeah, Fox’s production is bad, but they were showing a lot of games, now-Turner will screw us really really bad).

  3. Hammerdoc

    August 17, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    Had a longer comment that did not seem to post. Anyway, this seems like the opposite of the traditional business model for building a customer base: come in low, get people to love your product, then start slowly raising the price on them. Time will tell but this does not seem like the way to grow a sport with tremendous potential for growth but still lags far behind NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL, not to mention NCAA football and basketball in popularity. Make it free first then go subscription.

    • NaBUru38

      August 17, 2017 at 4:32 pm

      They are putting 2-4 matches per week on TruTV.

      • eddie

        August 17, 2017 at 9:34 pm

        put trutv and hln because oliver tse thinks that the fee is high on tnt/tbs and trutv/hln is great idea

        • Dan

          August 18, 2017 at 11:58 am

          TNT and TBS already have syndicated programming reruns during weekday afternoons that they have no reason to drop. Plenty profitable there. TruTV really doesn’t have that same issue.

          • Eddie

            August 18, 2017 at 4:34 pm

            oliver tse said hln and trutv because fees are high and tell him to oliver tse and it might use tnt/tbs/trutv lime trutv gets 2 matches and tnt/tbs gets 1 match and whiparound

  4. Eddie

    August 17, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    what about tnt/tbs/trutv/hln about next year

  5. Oliver Tse

    August 17, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    Again, Turner Sports is ARROGANT. They believe that millennials will be willing to pay for English-language world feeds when Spanish-language video feeds will be available for FREE via UniMas, UnivisionDeportes.com, and Univision Deportes app.

    Univision Deportes boss Juan Carlos Rodriguez is licking his chops.

    On UEFA Europa League Thursdays, there will be doubleheaders on Univision Deportes Network (UDN) and UniMas, for a total of 4 matches (out of 24 matches during group stage. Those 4 slots should take care of all the brand name clubs (including 2 Premier League clubs).

    Ditto every UEFA Champions League Tuesday and Wednesday during the group stage: doubleheaders on UDN and UniMas, for a total of 8 matches (out of 16) for each round. The other 8 can be produced cheaply at around $1000/match, for the purpose of giving them away on UnivisionDeportes.com and the Univision Deportes app in order for Univision to screw Turner.

    • dstorm

      August 17, 2017 at 4:34 pm

      This is a silver lining I had forgotten. Univision and UDN have broader distribution than Telemundo, etc – I have no problem watching those games in Spanish – Assuming big clubs will all play on Tru so feeling OK about this.

      The one thing I hope isn’t behind a paywall is the highlights show. And if they can manage to show that without a ticker that spoils the results that’s a step up on Fox.

  6. JN

    August 17, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    To see all of them, yes, you need Fox’s streaming service. That said if you had a package that includes FS1, FS2, Fox soccer Plus, and a regional Fox sports channel, you may have had access of up to 8 matches the last two days plus anything licensed to ESPN.

    Seems to me that once Turner takes over, there will be less available unless you pony up.

    I felt that this was coming, so the announcement was a splash of cold water in my face from the get go. I suspect that everything that is on ESPN 3 now will be behind that Disney paywall after reading that link.

    • LIguy

      August 17, 2017 at 2:13 pm

      Yep next I can see the championship, Euro qualifiers and WCQ on the ESPN OTT service.

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      August 17, 2017 at 3:11 pm

      Yes, I suspect the EFL and League Cup rights might be behind Disney’s paywall starting next season so enjoy the Championship while you can this year.

      • Paul

        August 19, 2017 at 3:06 am

        Or just pay a few dollars more and continue to enjoy the Championship like this year? If you want to watch it, pay for it. Same principle applies around the world.

  7. Ritchie

    August 17, 2017 at 1:55 pm

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

    • LIguy

      August 17, 2017 at 2:11 pm

      We have a few more on TV now, FS 1 and 2, Fox Regional network and ESPN 2 are usually airing a match, so we have at least 2 more a day on TV now. Thursdays we have 4 Europa at times, 2 at 1pm EST and 2 at 3pm EST on fs 1 and 2 with turner none will be on TV. But yes if you want to see every single match available you do have to pay now but with turner more bigger matches won’t be available on tv.

    • Christopher Harris

      August 17, 2017 at 2:13 pm

      The biggest change is for TV viewers.

      This season on TV on a typical Champions League week in the Group Stage (Tuesday and Wednesday), you would have English-language games on

      Tuesday: FS1, FS2, FOX Soccer Plus, FOX Sports Net, ESPN2
      Wednesday: FS1, FS2, FOX Soccer Plus, ESPN2

      So, a total of 9 matches on TV. Under Turner Sports’ plan, you would have 4 games. So it’s an average of 5 fewer games per Champions League week.

      • Paul

        August 19, 2017 at 3:05 am

        This is like scaremongering at its finest. Who actually watches 9 Champions League matches per round? You will still be able to watch every match, just subscribe to the streaming service. You can’t expect to have everything provided to you at no extra cost forever… it’s called business. UEFA have no issue with taking coverage exclusively behind a paywall in their own European market so do you really think they’re remotely concerned about US coverage being mostly online? Bar the same few teams, most matches are filler anyway. None story, move on.

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      August 17, 2017 at 3:10 pm

      In terms of Europa League you’re going from a possible 6 matches a day or 5 when we have Multimatch 90 to zero.

      For UCL going from 7 a matchday (not including Fox Soccer Plus which is like paying for the streaming service even though it is a TV channel) to 4. Right now you have FS1, FS2, FOX Sports Net, ESPN2. ESPN 2 is just once a matchday, the other three all show two games each matchday.

  8. Johninatl

    August 17, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    I enjoy some of the Europa League matches during the season, as well as its’ respective highlight show. Good opportunity to see different atmospheres. But if it will be all OTT with Turner, then UEFA is doing themselves a disservice. If anything, you’re always going to have some top English teams in that competition. I don’t have high hopes for Turner and soccer.

  9. Harry

    August 17, 2017 at 1:47 pm

    Just when Europa League matches have become meaningful as the winning team gets an automatic berth to the Champions League, Turner decides to put them on their OTT platform. Turner should first make sure it gets enough viewership on its TV stations before charging for matches. Bad business strategy. If NBC is charging $49.99 for its streaming service for an entire season with presumably more matches then anything more than $24.99 for Turner’s streaming service would be a ripoff.

    • dave

      August 17, 2017 at 3:31 pm

      its not an entire season for $49.99

      • Malcolm

        August 18, 2017 at 11:35 am

        Yes it is for the entire season (August thru May).

    • NaBUru38

      August 17, 2017 at 4:31 pm

      Is the UEFA Champions League worth only half as much as the English Premier League?

      • Malcolm

        August 18, 2017 at 11:37 am

        It has to do with the number of games on offer. The EPL season has many more games than the Europa league.

        • Dan

          August 18, 2017 at 11:57 am

          Also, the Champions League and Europa League games are all midweek afternoons in the U.S./Canada, when most people would tend to be at work.

          Which could actually make it quite perfect for a streaming/OTT product as Turner/Bleacher Report plans- people could watch it the way they do NCAA Tournament games.

          But I do agree with Oliver that if Univision offers the same content largely free, Turner may have a hard time selling subscriptions unless and until something “else” gets offered too for the price. Whether that’s some or all of NBA League Pass (which Turner manages) or something different remains to be seen.

  10. Spencer

    August 17, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    I can count on my hands the number of Americans who will pay for Europe League matches. Incredibly naive game plan here and Turner will lose a boatload of cash on this deal. Guaranteed.

    • ribman

      August 17, 2017 at 10:57 pm

      factoring in most of these games are week day when many are not available to watch, so pay for a replay but good luck not hearing the result before you watch

    • Oliver Tse

      August 19, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      Turner Sports will make money on UEFA CL even if ZERO subscribers were to subscribe.

      Why?

      As long as AT&T Media (the soon to be former Time Warner) were able to negotiate a $0.06 increase in the monthly subscriber fee for truTV (resulting in $62.4 million in subscriber fees), then Turner Sports cannot lose money.

      Turner Sports has already decided to spend as little as possible on production. For 31-32 broadcast days, the production cost (including transmission cost) may be as low as $500,000 (by using 100% world feeds and “dirt cheap” studio talent such as the Atlanta United FC contingent i.e. Brittany Arnold as host, Carlos Bocanegra and/or Darren Eales as pundit.) Turner Sports should be able to sell at least $4 million in advertising.

      Turner Sports needs to generate $5-6 million/year in profit from its sports TV properties to cover ongoing annual losses in its ELEAGUE video gaming TV programming venture. The UEFA project should be able cover $3-4 million of the ELEAGUE losses.

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