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ESPN trying to acquire LaLiga rights for U.S. market, sources say

Future El Clásico matches featuring Real Madrid and Barcelona could be heading to ESPN in the near future. A source with knowledge of the situation revealed to World Soccer Talk that ESPN has been in talks to try to finalize a U.S. rights deal for LaLiga that would encompass the next six seasons beginning in August, 2021.

Originally, ESPN had hoped to announce the landmark rights acquisition at Disney’s Investor Day in December, sources said. While the delay was unexpected, ESPN is also in negotiations to renew its U.S. rights to Italy’s Serie A. ESPN’s current three-year deal that was signed in 2018 ends after the 2020/21 season is completed.

If deals can be reached with both Serie A and LaLiga, ESPN will have rights to the vast majority of club soccer coverage in the United States for the next several years. After losing the FIFA World Cup rights to FOX Sports, ESPN has focused its efforts on rebuilding its rights portfolio with ESPN+ a main part of its strategy. According to an industry source, ESPN can monetize their soccer coverage far more effectively via subscriptions to ESPN+ than other networks who focus exclusively on broadcasting televised matches.

Regarding ESPN’s attempts to acquire the rights to LaLiga for the U.S. market, an ESPN spokesman declined to comment.

Negotiating rights deals can often be complex, and this one between LaLiga North America and ESPN is no exception. In 2019, beIN SPORTS renewed its U.S. rights to LaLiga through 2024 as part of a global deal that the Spanish league reached with the broadcaster. Nevertheless, beIN SPORTS have been unable to rectify their distribution issues. The network is still unavailable on Comcast Xfinity and DirecTV, two of the nation’s largest TV providers. These distribution issues have been a point of contention for LaLiga North America who believe that it has severely hurt the growth of LaLiga in the United States, and prevented the Spanish league from being televised to a much larger audience.

A source confirmed with World Soccer Talk that ESPN has been trying to obtain the U.S. rights to LaLiga for quite some time. Not only would the rights be a boost for LaLiga’s growth, but they’d certainly be an attractive property for ESPN Deportes. Also, while World Soccer Talk understands that a possible deal between LaLiga and ESPN may feature the vast majority of games on ESPN+, ESPN has the opportunity to broadcast select games such as el Clásico on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2, which are in a far greater number of households than beIN SPORTS is currently.

Without LaLiga, beIN SPORTS would be in a difficult position as a U.S. broadcaster. The English- and Spanish-language network has the rights to France’s Ligue 1, Turkey’s Süper Lig as well as Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana. LaLiga has been the network’s flagship league, so this would be a massive blow to the broadcaster who has held the rights to Spain’s LaLiga since 2012.

Whether LaLiga can find a loophole in the agreement with beIN SPORTS to break the contract and then offer the rights to ESPN, that’s the big question. LaLiga North America has urged beIN SPORTS in the past to consider sublicensing some of its games to other broadcasters, a source revealed to World Soccer Talk. But those repeated attempts failed. Officially, LaLiga North America — which is a partnership between Relevent Sports and LaLiga — says that beIN SPORTS continues to be the league’s global partner.

LaLiga finds itself in the difficult position of wanting to be on a U.S. network with greater distribution, but not wanting to rock the boat with its global partner beIN SPORTS. World Soccer Talk reached out to beIN SPORTS Media Group in London, but have not heard back.

Looking ahead, 2021 promises to be an eventful one for ESPN+ and other soccer broadcasters. World Soccer Talk understands that NBC Sports are diligently working to try to renew its U.S. rights to the Premier League. The current rights contract between NBC Sports and the Premier League expires at the close of the 2021/22 season, but a decision is expected to be reached in the next few months for seasons 2022/23 and beyond.

Other broadcasters are interested in acquiring the English Premier League. With ESPN+ gobbling up most of the soccer rights available in the United States, the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader of Sports will assuredly be a contender too.

All this is happening during a year when Paramount+ launches on March 4 as the renamed and rebranded streaming service formerly known as CBS All Access.

Meanwhile, discussions will continue this year between broadcasters and Major League Soccer. The current MLS TV deal with FOX Sports, ESPN and Univision ends in December 2022, with plenty of time for an agreement to be completed that will also include rights to the U.S. Men’s National Team and U.S. Women’s National Team games in the lead-up to the upcoming FIFA World Cup tournaments.

 

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24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. David the Yank

    February 15, 2021 at 12:20 pm

    I don’t see how it would be legal for TUDN to have an English feed for CL matches in the USA as they don’t own the English language rights.

  2. The Hand of God

    February 5, 2021 at 11:52 am

    A new EPL rightsholder in the US can go to an all-streaming business model without sacrificing quality because:

    Premier League TV offers a “turn key” solution 24/7/365.

    All the “big names” appear on Premier League TV when they are off duty from their UK domestic assignments.

    On Monday January 19, the NHL game on NBCSN went into overtime so NBC allowed Peacock TV FREE to give away the entire Premier League TV broadcast of Arsenal v Newcastle from the build up show at 2pm Eastern time all the way through to the post-match show at 6pm Eastern.

    Steve Bower deliberately swapped his usual Saturday shift with Seema Jaswal so that he could present that particular match on Premier League TV because…

    …the pundits were Ian Wright and Alan Shearer.

    You tell me which studio team would produce a more informative show:

    Bower, Wright & Shearer?

    or

    Lowe, Earle & Mustoe?

    The two shows weren’t even close in terms of quality and information.

  3. Michael

    February 4, 2021 at 9:12 pm

    Chris,
    I watch TUDN for UCL and they have a Spanish and an English feed of their games. What would stop TUDN/Univision from making a big for La Liga Spanish and English rights? In addition to the OTA Univision and Unimas, they have 12 different extra channels including a Whip Around Channel.
    They could show every game every week. Now, I have no Idea what kinds of finances they have available with this being a COVID season…but they used to go a great job on the German matches.

  4. Yespage

    February 3, 2021 at 9:23 am

    If memory serves, wasn’t Disney having issues with large overbid contracts with ESPN hurting the bottom line, making EPL an expensive contract. The other leagues don’t cost as much.

  5. Edward

    January 27, 2021 at 10:58 pm

    if ESPN gets EPL, then Men In Blazers go behind the ESPN+ paywall…they definitely will not get any time on ESPN, ESPN2, ABC or ESPNNEWS…maybe ESPN OCHO

  6. Michael F

    January 27, 2021 at 1:17 pm

    @Anthony. Exactly. Thank you. Again, I like ESPN FC coverage for an overall top clubs summary analysis of the euro leagues. I want that too. But it does not come anywhere close to the detail and coverage you get exclusively for the EPL from NBCSN and the Sky Sports PL channel and on-demand show coverage provided via Peacock.

  7. Cpcva

    January 27, 2021 at 11:51 am

    I wouldn’t hold my breath for them to putting it on ABC.

  8. Anthony

    January 27, 2021 at 11:48 am

    As a few people have hinted, the issue with going to an all-streaming model on something like EPSN+ is that you don’t get the extensive league analysis you get with a dedicated broadcaster. A lot of people complain about NBCSN focusing on the “Big 6” but as someone who has watched for years, the pre-game shows and the other programming provide very good insight and information on all of the clubs. As an American watching, for example, I understand where cities like Burnley and Bournmouth are, the personalities of their coaches, etc because Rebecca Lowe, Robbies, etc talk about these teams. ESPN+ won’t be providing that kind of analysis for Getafe, Grenada, Alves, whoever else. They really don’t do that know with lower table German or Italian clubs today.

  9. KL

    January 27, 2021 at 11:41 am

    I like as many matches/leagues as possible. Also, thanks to the recent article, i figured out how to use multicast on the xbox. The only problem is the streaming quality isn’t as good, but it isn’t as noticeable on grid view. The only time i would watch studio analysis would be for big matches. ESPNFC suffices as far as bumper content would go, sometimes the analysis is a bit too long for my liking. They dont focus on one league. They even cover leagues they dont broadcast. Adding La Liga would expand their reach even more. Also they have more opportunities to put big games on big networks. For the Bayern/Schalke game they put it on Espn but people with just espn+ could also watch. They also put games on espn3. The only thing i would worry about would be a price increase, but its a wonder espn+ isnt $20 a month. Overall though if la liga was taken away from beIN it would probably save the soccer viewer money.

  10. Michael F

    January 27, 2021 at 9:55 am

    @Chronos. Although I enjoy ESPN FC for what it is, it is NOT a thorough in-depth coverage of any euro league, including and especially the EPL. It only focuses on the top 6 clubs and spends most of their time debating who is the favorite of 2 or 3 of the top clubs to win the league. That’s not going to change.

    Unfortunately, I guess I am of the minority here that enjoys a deep dive into a specific league and analysis of matches and all its 20 clubs (and no I don’t wish to endlessly search the internet elsewhere for my content). Although I do some of that too in my spare time.

  11. Efrain

    January 27, 2021 at 8:42 am

    That would be great if ESPN can pull this off. Would love to see La Liga on ESPN! Better streaming quality than Sling/Fanatic. Though, don’t know how that happens since beIN has contract until 2024.

  12. Edward

    January 27, 2021 at 8:26 am

    soon enough Stephen A Smith will be trolling CR7, Harry Kane, Zidane like he does Dak Prescott and Lebron James.

  13. Mercator

    January 27, 2021 at 3:35 am

    This would be so great, Seria A, Bundesliga and La Liga all on the multicast, MLS and tons of other US sports as well. El Classico on ABC or ESPN, Sportscenter and the pundits pushing Messi. If we are lucky they will kill off BeIN for good and ESPN+ may get Libertadores or another few properties.

    I hope they get the EPL as well. I just want everything on my multicast and no new subscriptions. NBC has, on a good day, 3 or 4 people in the studio. I’m sure the worldwide leader in sports can find 3 or 4 people to talk about West Brom on a Monday afternoon. They can always grab Burley out of bed and stick him behind a desk to rant in between matches, more than good enough for me.

  14. Chronos

    January 27, 2021 at 1:46 am

    ESPN FC often leads with Premier League coverage over the leagues for which they are rightsholders. (And without highlights, because media companies are a bunch of 5-year-olds.) I can’t imagine the PL getting lost in the shuffle at ESPN, as it is far more popular in the States than any other European league. And soccer will never be on their main channels, not when they get higher ratings with Stephen A Smith’s latest hot take.

    But count me as another ‘I just want the games.’ I can watch highlights on YouTube and there a billion places to find news and analysis, including the very site we are on.

  15. Michael F

    January 26, 2021 at 8:35 pm

    @KL. See my last sentence of my last comment post. You fit in that category.

  16. KL

    January 26, 2021 at 8:08 pm

    I personally don’t care as long as I have as much soccer as possible in one place for an inexpensive fee. It’s amazing ESPN+ isn’t $20 per month at least.

  17. Michael F

    January 26, 2021 at 6:54 pm

    ESPN already has Bundesliga and Serie A and may now add LaLiga. And people have been clamoring and hoping for ESPN to also gain the rights to EPL?

    You think that would be a good thing?! I got news for you. That’s over saturation of coverage for a sport. It will lack the in-depth deep dive coverage you now see by a network provider that exclusively carries the EPL.

    And some writers here for this site have claimed that NBC has recently focused too much on EPL’s top 6 clubs?? Hahaha. Just imagine EPL on ESPN, which now has 2 other major euro leagues and maybe a 3rd.

    C’mon folks, think it through. I guess if you are just there to watch the matches and nothing more… then your needs are satisfied. Good for you.

  18. TheOriginalTom

    January 26, 2021 at 4:43 pm

    I’d love it if LaLiga got on ESPN. Better exposure for the sport and the league; and easier for me to watch. Win-win.

  19. Karl

    January 26, 2021 at 4:18 pm

    You’d think if ESPN can pull this off that beIN’s days of carriage just about anywhere are numbered, eliminating one of the few players bidding against ESPN on future soccer properties.

  20. Ritchie

    January 26, 2021 at 3:44 pm

    Chris: I don’t understand how ESPN had hoped to make this August 2021 deal last December if BeIN already has the rights until 2024. What is the missing link here?

  21. JP

    January 26, 2021 at 2:55 pm

    Yikes, that would surely kill beIN Sports here in the US or they become virtually irrelevant like GolTV. Hopefully for them that contract is iron clad.

    I like having all of La Liga matches predictably on beIN. Unless ESPN would put all matches on ESPN+ it’s a downgrade for me. Don’t want to have to keep track of what is streaming and what is on ESPNEWS.

    For La Liga, don’t think it would help their growth all that much unless matches were shown on ABC. While there is hype about Bundesliga being better off on ESPN+ rather than FS1/FS2, know I’ve watched much less of it. Only made a point to watch three matches this season so far….Bayern/Dortmund, Bayern/Leipzig, and Bayern/Leverkusen. If they were still on FS1/FS2 would surely have sampled many more matches.

    I’m even selective on which Serie A matches end up watching each weekend, and that’s the league I make a point to follow the closest. Imagine the same would happen to La Liga if they made this move.

  22. Edwin

    January 26, 2021 at 2:14 pm

    ESPN+*

  23. Edwin

    January 26, 2021 at 2:13 pm

    @Azer we as soccer fans have to realize with the exception of a very few leagues no foreign soccer leagues with exception of Mexico is getting dedicated TV time or “deserving or belonging to big TV time. Networks have shown us time after time they are as romanticized about these foreign leagues as some are. They simply view them as a cool to have property to booster their streaming services.

    Before it seemed the only leagues with dedicated allotted TV slots among the established prime networks were EPL, Liga MX and MLS. Now even EPL us about to have their TV time greatly reduced from what originally help propel it in the states with most games going on Peacock with the remaining scatter shot between USA Network and NBC.

    Expect the same coverage as Serie A and Bundesliga on ESPN+ not that there coverage is bad, but most games will be on Peacock and the occasional 1-2 games a month on ESPN/ESPN2 or ESPNNews

  24. Azer

    January 26, 2021 at 1:52 pm

    Let’s not forget ESPN3 is still in business. I remember in the past, prior to ESPN+ If there was a soccer game on ESPN Deportes, English speaking viewers would be able to watch it on ESPN3. ESPN+ is great but the El Classico belongs on TV in both English & Spanish.

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