The importance of the acquisition deal by beIN SPORTS in obtaining the rights to the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana for the next four years in the United States cannot be overstated.
Speaking to World Soccer Talk, beIN SPORTS’ deputy managing director for the U.S. and Canada Antonio Briceño said there was a lot of interest in acquiring the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana competitions. “There were [other bidders], but the deciding factor [in CONMEBOL agreeing to do the deal with beIN SPORTS] is what they’ve seen us do with LaLiga in the past six years.
“We will be the home for South American [soccer] in the United States and Canada. It gives us a full-year of programming including months where we usually don’t have live soccer because of the [summer break] in Europe. Most importantly, we will now have a full-week offering of the best soccer from around the world on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and we’ll continue with the coverage on Saturday and Sunday. Then, on Monday and Friday, the viewers will be able to see all of the recaps and previews of the games.”
Importantly, the level of commitment promised by beIN SPORTS will raise the bar for coverage of the two competitions in the U.S. market.
“Fans can expect to see every match between linear and beIN SPORTS Connect,” said Briceño.
There are a few other reasons why this is a huge deal for soccer fans and beIN SPORTS, who signed this acquisition as part of a massive global deal that includes the United States, Canada, Asia-Pacific, Middle East and North Africa.
One, it greatly increases the exposure of the tournament to the English-language audience, who have been curious about the competition for a long time but have never had a broadcaster committed to broadcasting the games in English. beIN SPORTS commentators Phil Schoen and Ray Hudson will call the CONMEBOL Match of the Week on the English-language beIN SPORTS network, while the talent on beIN SPORTS en Español will be busy broadcasting games across the 41 weeks of the competition.
The second reason is that beIN SPORTS can carve out their midweek programming in primetime to showcase games from many of the greatest clubs from South America.
It’s an ideal rights property for beIN SPORTS in the United States, where the broadcaster can grow its English-language, Spanish-language and bilingual audience. And unlike other broadcasters, beIN SPORTS doesn’t have any other programming that conflicts with the CONMEBOL competitions, so beIN SPORTS can give both the Copa Lib and Copa Sudamericana the time, focus and dedication they deserve. The rights deal is for four years, which gives the broadcaster plenty of runway to sign advertisers as well as to improve their distribution.
Speaking of distribution, that will be the greatest challenge. With AT&T and Comcast dropping beIN SPORTS last summer, those are the two biggest TV providers in the United States not broadcasting the channels. If there was ever an acquisition deal, however, that could convince DIRECTV to bring back beIN SPORTS and beIN SPORTS en Español, the Copa Libertadores is it.
The CONMEBOL tournaments are an ideal fit for the talent on both the English- and Spanish-language networks. On the English-language side, beIN SPORTS has hired an eclectic group of talent that are fans of world soccer, and many of whom have worked South American qualifiers for the past two World Cup tournaments. The transition for beIN SPORTS to broadcast South American soccer should be seamless.
While beIN SPORTS will be the exclusive home of the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana in the United States, Briceño did add a special note of interest during the interview.
“We want to explore some strategic alliances with other players out there. For a lot of the channels that have soccer properties, they don’t have the ‘shelf-space’ to show it all. That also happens to us in some cases, so I’m also willing and hoping to have some conversations where we’re able to make some trades (instead of pure-play acquisitions) to round off our product even more.”
That’s a departure from what beIN SPORTS has done in the past. It could end up making soccer more accessible to fans nationwide.