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Watching soccer is going to get expensive for Americans

watching soccer is going to get expensive

Watching soccer is going to get expensive for the millions of fans in the United States.

In the next five years, we are certain to see more volatility in the way soccer is broadcast and delivered to US audiences. As the broadcast and media industry in the United States continues to evolve in order to adjust to new realities in terms of audiences, it’s likely that change will be a common theme for the next several years as well as adding more confusing for consumers as they try to watch their favorite club, league or tournament. Undoubtedly, watching soccer is going to get expensive stateside.

This spring, ESPN Plus will launch with a $4.99/month price point. The service will include all MLS matches not on national television in the US. It is also likely to include USL, EFL Championship, League 1 and League 2 as well as the League Cup. While MLS broadcasts not offered nationally have always been on a pay platform, the other properties mentioned have been generally more accessible with a cable subscription or even simply by having a computer with internet access.

At the start of the new European season in August 2018, Turner Sports is expected to launch a new pay streaming service which will exclusively air close to 80% of matches from UEFA club competitions. When you factor in the costs of already existing services such as FOX Soccer Match Pass and the extra tier of cable that needs to be purchased to gain access to beIN SPORTS, the costs of being a soccer fan are growing rapidly. In addition, as of now, NBC Sports is expected to continue offering Premier League matches not broadcast on one of its networks via its pay NBC Sports Gold package.

As cable subscriptions drop and cord-cutting becomes more of the norm, especially since soccer fans in the US tend to fit the millennial demographic, more and more soccer matches are likely to be offered on internet-based, pay platforms.

Non-Liga MX and “Big Six” Premier League club football remains a niche in terms of the US sports market. But it’s a powerful niche with fans largely so passionate about the leagues and clubs they follow that they are willing to go to great lengths to watch matches and bumper programming legally even, as we have seen at an additional cost.

Looking over the horizon it is entirely possible the low ratings non-US Women’s and Men’s National Team soccer programming gets on FS1 and FS2 will lead to the network dropping Bundesliga coverage outright and eventually after 2022 placing more MLS games on its online platform exclusively. The sale of FOX’s regional sports channels to Disney also limits the need to have broadcasts of soccer programming. For the last several years, Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League reruns have often been used to fill dead air on these networks.

ESPN might very well drop out of the soccer business entirely on television outside of UEFA internationals and US games if they are not forced to show MLS matches to secure US rights. The resignation of John Skipper as ESPN’s President has been underplayed by soccer aficionados, but could have a devastating impact on the presence of the sport on America’s flagship sports network. Skipper dragged ESPN’s programming into the modern era by emphasizing soccer content, but in the post-Skipper era which is coinciding with the launch of ESPN Plus, the nightly ESPN FC news program might be the only regular soccer-centric content on the network in 2023.

NBC Sports should retain rights to the Premier League after the expiry of the current rights deal in May 2022, but chances of the league securing a higher fee for the US market than the current 6 year/$1bn package is unlikely. As ratings have only slightly improved for the Premier League since NBC signed its latest deal, the expectation for fans should be that the network continues to try and recoup portions of the inflated fee it paid for the product through its NBC Sports Gold product. However, given the sloppy rollout and PR troubles it cost NBC in year one of Premier League Pass, the cost of this service is likely to remain a flat $50 a season or somewhere in the neighborhood of that price point.

As for beIN SPORTS, either the network will have to try and increase its cable package distribution and online product or might simply exit the US market when the current rights deals expire. Parent company Al Jazeera abandoned its US news network two years ago and has found much more success with the BeIN brand in other markets. Turner Sports could pick up the rights to La Liga and make it a largely digital product, which would compliment its aforementioned soon-to-be-launched program.

Will Univision make a play for more European leagues to fill programming on Univision Deportes? It already has the UEFA Champions League and Europa League for 2018/19 onwards. Potentially, with complete control now of Liga MX US rights, the network will be able to pick and choose where to continue to empire build.

The real x-factors going forward will be the efforts of Amazon, Netflix, YouTube, go90, Facebook and Twitter. Amazon and Netflix already have dipped into the market of making original documentary content about European football and both are likely at some point to bid on a live rights package – in fact Amazon might do so in the very near future for the UK market. YouTube has previously aired USL games and this season YouTube TV has an exclusive local pay deal with MLS’ LAFC. Facebook Live has aired UEFA Champions League games this season in cooperation with FOX and Twitter broadcast matches from NASL’s San Francisco Deltas during the team’s 2017 championship-winning campaign. Both Facebook and Twitter are likely to try and continue to gain access to content, with Facebook likely securing more lucrative content, perhaps even the Bundesliga when FOX inevitably dumps it from its cable channels. The big question here is whether Facebook and Twitter will start charging a premium for streaming live events, since we’ve already seen YouTube is willing to dispense with its previously free model to air live matches.

Ultimately those who provide soccer content to cord-cutters at an affordable rate like Sling TV and FuboTV might prove to be the biggest winners. As Sling, Fubo and other similar services make deals to gain the content and perhaps offer the streaming services as part of their premium packages, they can raise prices that yet seem affordable for the average fan – giving consumers an easier way to accumulate access to all the content they want at what might seem a relatively reasonable cost.

When it comes to projecting the future of the soccer broadcast business in the US, one thing is for certain – the industry is evolving away from a TV-centric model toward a more streaming-oriented one using paid services.

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17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Bette

    March 19, 2019 at 2:21 pm

    For people on really tight budgets, soccer, like baseball and other sports will cease to be a viewing option.

  2. jason

    February 26, 2018 at 9:39 am

    With cable tv bundles dropping, companies are going to launch their own streaming content. So I think for most people the limit is 1 or 2 streaming services. You are going to have to pick and choose your content.

    Got to go with best bang for buck. For sports including soccer, ESPN+ has huge potential. Even though I hate their SJW leaning tendencies. At least that is limited to stuff like sportscenter which has become an obsolete show. Netflix is still the way to go for entertainment at lest for the next year and a half until the Disney stream service starts.

    I got no paid streaming right now, but I’m leaning towards ESPN+ and Netflix for the summer. Netflix flirts with sports with the soccer documentaries, Olympic preview shows, , pro wrestling, and beastmaster, but they have not gone full board with something yet. I would be interested to see if they get into something.

  3. Anthony

    February 25, 2018 at 12:34 pm

    This shows you kind of need a “soccer channel” to absorb all of the continental European leagues, cups, etc. Bein is serving as that de facto role, and if they don’t survive, it will be a blow.

    I don’t think ESPN will retreat from soccer – I think a more likely outcome is them buying rights, putting the majority of the marches on ESPN+ and televising select matches on ESPN (like today’s League Cup match)

    • jason

      February 26, 2018 at 9:41 am

      The football league content on ESPN3 has been excellent. I hope the same content carries over to ESPN+. Add MLS to it, then $5 a month on just that is a great deal. Then you go other sports content like NHL potentially. Then it could be a huge hit and could be THE number 1 sports media story of 2018.

  4. Chris

    February 25, 2018 at 7:45 am

    Kind of scary to see BEIN go out if it does, I have relied on them to watch la liga and like it has made me happy to know it is there and is untouched. I go to BEINSports Espanol to watch La Liga all the time. You basically can get all the matches all weekend save a few on that channel. Only thing I am afraid of is if these rights get moved around on pay streaming networks is that they do not roll out their Roku Apps quick enough.

    The whole Champions League rights is a shocker to me, like seriously, FOX could not put out more ? they have held that property for quite some time. Time Warner ?. who doesn’t even have anything out ? like they will have to roll out all this stuff so quick and it will probably just be a load of crap in the beginning.

    • CTBlues

      February 27, 2018 at 10:42 am

      Turner Sports streaming will be fine. They stream all the Men’s NCAA Tournament games without a hitch and there wont be that many viewers for the UCL and UEL games in the US. I just worry about there coverage like who they get to be the studio host, talking heads, and game commentaries.

      • Eddie

        February 27, 2018 at 11:28 am

        Steve nash will join turner sports during next season of UEFA champions league and will be doing soccer analysis.

  5. Brendan

    February 24, 2018 at 8:52 am

    When I first came to USA in 1981 Football or soccer if u want to call it that . It was virtually non- existent on Tv . I watched the 1982 World Cup on the spainish CH. 41 in New Jersey . The FA Cup final was the only live game that was available on satellite that u had to go the pub on Saturday morning to watch . I think we heading down that road again as there isn’t enough consumers to pay for the fees that these broadcasters are looking to charge . Fox are getting out of the soccer business as they are to lose reported $200 million on the World Cup this year . I wonder would Bein Sport take the FA Cup with the SerieA as a package in the short term

  6. SportsTV

    February 23, 2018 at 2:58 pm

    ESPN Plus priced at $4.99 is hardly going to break the bank, is it? Try living abroad in Europe and wanting to watch live matches. In the UK, for Sky TV customers wanting Sky Sports and BT Sport access, they’re looking at $125 a month. Both Sky Sports and BT Sport cost $45 each in a premium way similar to HBO or Showtime. At least in the US, the European leagues are more accessible than those price points and are on ‘regular’ cable channels so it’s not all bad.

  7. John

    February 23, 2018 at 12:46 pm

    I can tell that this will cause some frustration – at least for me – in the next few years. I’ll be disappointed if Fox drops the Bundesliga. I thought they’ve done a great job with match coverage and also with the different highlight and “profile” shows. Remember when NBC used to do a weekly Premier League Review show? Why did they stop? NBC’s coverage of England’s Premier League seems a bit lazy to me, like they do the bare minimum required, and could be so much more. Any word on the future of Italian soccer being broadcast in the U.S.?

    • Christopher Harris

      February 23, 2018 at 2:11 pm

      NBC’s Premier League Preview Show and Review Show are on NBCSports.com/gold

      Here’s more information about the Serie A rights and the possible future for them: https://worldsoccertalk.com/2018/02/22/img-combining-fa-cup-tv-rights-serie-try-force-sale-usa-says-source/

      • cnl. onions

        February 23, 2018 at 2:26 pm

        NBC Gold executed properly would be a good product, but it doesn’t appear to be based on word of mouth(I haven’t subbed.) From what I’ve heard, shows are tough to locate and it’s in a jumbled mess.

        • SaintsFan

          February 23, 2018 at 2:53 pm

          No probs with NBC Gold as a product. The games I want to watch are easy to find etc.
          However – it is never going to get that many subscribers until it carries ALL English Premier League games. Not just the ones at aren’t on TV.
          I’m sure they are weighing up the pros/cons of doing this.
          ‘watch every Prem game live’ would be so much easier to say than the cack-handed way they have to describe it currently.

        • mccort912

          February 24, 2018 at 10:07 am

          Shows on Gold are pretty easy to locate and the layout is user friendly I think. What is not good is the streaming quality during some matches and the fact that it couldn’t even handle the load of people streaming early in the season when they put some of the big clubs on it. I don’t think one of the big clubs have been on it since December so I don’t know if that has been fixed.

  8. Rick

    February 23, 2018 at 11:11 am

    The old Fox Soccer Channel looks so good compared to where we are headed based on this article. Sad, but the average soccer fan will end up losing and paying more and more.

  9. Henry Reichman

    February 23, 2018 at 8:34 am

    Is there any good stuff in the future soccer broadcasting world?

    • cnl. onions

      February 23, 2018 at 10:09 am

      Could technically be getting more games in HD with good international commentary and at a lower price than now if you cut cable and there are sensible streaming packages. Seems like there will be growing pains for a few years in the streaming world where you’ll have to go in and out of apps. Costs are also going to creep closer and closer to what we originally paid for cable bundles and streaming is not reliable yet on all platforms.

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