Despite returning the Champions League and Europa League rights back to UEFA earlier this summer, Bleacher Report are back in the business of streaming live soccer games with several important UEFA Champions League qualification matches beginning today. Their live coverage includes this afternoon’s highly-anticipated Celtic versus Ferencvaros game plus matches involving AZ Alkmaar, Legia Warsaw and Rapid Wien.
World Soccer Talk understands that Bleacher Report are also actively seeking the acquisition of other UEFA qualification matches including Tottenham’s path through the Europa League. Due to Arsenal winning the FA Cup which ensured the Gunners’ place in the Europa League this coming season, it meant that Tottenham have to go into the second qualifying round of the Europa League. If Chelsea had won the FA Cup Final, Tottenham would have automatically started in the Group Stage of the tournament.
Since last week, Bleacher Report has been streaming preseason friendlies for free featuring Liverpool and Tottenham (see schedule). On top of all of that coverage, B/R Live still has the rights to several club TV channels including LFCTV, MUTV, Arsenal TV and Spurs TV. Those are available on a paid subscription basis and feature behind-the-scenes interviews as well as matches shown on delay.
If you’re wondering how Bleacher Report has been able to acquire rights to important UEFA Champions League and Europa League qualification matches instead of CBS Sports, it’s because the qualification games are not included in the UEFA club competition rights that CBS Sports acquired. CBS Sports’ coverage of the two competitions begins in the Group Stage, scheduled to begin in October.
So why is Bleacher Report back to acquiring more soccer rights, even if they’re just individual games? Overall, it’s part of a new strategy from the sports tech company to begin transitioning more live games to the Bleacher Report app itself instead of the B/R Live platform. B/R Live will continue being the home of club TV channels and rights it has to other sporting competitions as well as select individual games, but the shift away from B/R Live has already begun. With some of these qualification games and friendlies available for free on the Bleacher Report app, it’s an ideal way to test how much demand there are for games, as well as seeing how well the app handles live streaming.
Two other important factors are that Turner Sports and Bleacher Report are actively working on ways to incorporate sports gambling into their app, so it’s important to build that audience instead of abandoning it. And secondly, Bleacher Report — having just signed a major content deal with Major League Soccer — is actively interested in bidding on the next MLS TV/streaming rights deal that will begin next year.
All of these factors combined contribute to Bleacher Report’s renewed interest in building their audience and repairing some of the negativity associated with their brand given their decision to bail on the UEFA Champions League as well as their less than impressive launch of their B/R Football broadcasts of games on TNT. These decisions to acquire more rights to individual soccer games are a positive step forward after Bleacher Report’s annus horribilis.
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