US broadcasters battling for Premier League rights

Premier League considers broadcasters aiming to win U.S. rights

Anticipation is building at Premier League’s head office in London of a record-breaking U.S. media rights deal. Photo credit:
Jonathan Brady – PA Images.

When it comes to the US broadcasters battling for Premier League rights, there is a lot for the league to consider. For instance, it is a critical period in the evolution of sports broadcasting. Does the Premier League need to double down on a quality streaming service? Or is it time to maximize the distribution of television networks?

After all, which broadcasters are best equipped to grow the Premier League in the United States? When you consider what is at stake, it is possible the deal may reach as much as $3 billion over nine years. So, let us take a closer look at the main contenders. We also examine their strengths and weaknesses.

When the Premier League signed a six-year rights extension with NBC Sports in September 2015, the media world was different. At the time, over the top streaming services were largely limited to on-demand taped programming. Meanwhile, linear TV networks offered streaming services such as ESPN3 and NBCSports.com. They were complementary to cable and satellite subscriptions, requiring authentication.

NBC’s current six-year exclusive rights package expires at the end of the current Premier League campaign. So far, the rights have attracted no shortage of suitors. The U.S. media rights are expected to cost somewhere between $250-300 million a year. And as recently reported, the rights could be split evenly between potential media partners.

First, let us look together at the strengths and weaknesses of each major U.S. sports broadcaster:

Pros and cons of US broadcasters aiming to win Premier League rights

FOX Sports
FOX Sports: One of the US broadcasters battling for Premier League rightsStrengthsWeaknesses
Ability to cross-promote league across World Cup and European Championship; Checks all of the boxes for distribution (across TV, streaming and Spanish-language TV)Weak studio talent; Some of their commentators don’t have much soccer experience; Poor communications and marketing of games; Tubi is not yet synonymous with sports; Other sports conflict with EPL programming; Unfavorable opinion among majority of US soccer fans; Overall, low soccer IQ




Spanish-language networkStreaming service

FOX DeportesTubi




Channels availableKey factor

FOX, FS1, FS2, FOX Soccer PlusPremier League would be ideal vehicle to use to promote FOX’s World Cup 2022 and 2026 coverage

FOX’s commitment to the NFL, Big Ten, NASCAR, MLB and other properties means the Premier League would likely not have many broadcast timeslots available on over-the-air FOX.

Unlike the last time FOX had the rights to the Premier League in the US, the network no longer owns a dedicated soccer channel. Additionally, the broadcaster no longer owns FX (which is now owned by Disney). In the past, that channel regularly saw aired spillover Premier League, Bundesliga and Champions League games.

Still, FOX likely would be able to dedicate time on FS1 and FS2 to the league outside of college football and basketball seasons. FOX may be able to show as many matches on TV as NBCUniversal but they would be buried on channels with fewer viewers.

 

CBS Sports
CBS: One of the US broadcasters battling for Premier League rights
StrengthsWeaknesses
A-rated studio analysts; Hire top commentators; Have shown huge commitment to quantity and quality of shoulder programming; Excellent communications and advertising of games; High level of soccer IQNo Spanish-language network; Paramount+ technical issues; other sports programming commitments limit amount of games on CBS network




Spanish-language networkStreaming service

NoneParamount+




Channels availableKey factor

CBS, CBS Sports NetworkPremier League would make Paramount+ the streaming service for soccer fans, offering Europe’s two biggest competitions (ie EPL and Champions League).

CBS has become the broadcaster of choice for many American soccer fans. However, CBS would see the Premier League as mostly an acquisition for Paramount+. It already has a large number of soccer rights. Plus, it has a limited number of ViacomCBS-owned channels that air soccer. Currently, CBS does air one or two Serie A matches a weekend on CBS Sports Network.

The departure of the SEC football package from CBS following the 2023 season does potentially open more broadcast windows on the CBS network. College basketball continues to occupy much of the time in the spring, but the ratings for that sport continue to wane outside of March. Extensive PGA Tour coverage is also a roadblock to more broadcast over-the-air timeslots.

 

ESPN
ESPN: One of the US broadcasters battling for Premier League rights
StrengthsWeaknesses
Leader in US sports coverage; ESPN+ is number 1 sports streaming service; Have shown commitment to hiring strong talent; High level of soccer IQ; Daily soccer show is a plusCollege football commitments reduce availability of open TV slots




Spanish-language networkStreaming service

ESPN DeportesESPN+




Channels availableKey factor

ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPNU, ESPN DeportesESPN needs the Premier League to hit aggressive subscriber growth numbers.

Given ESPN’s lack of broadcast television timeslots that are available, it’s doubtful they will be able to give the Premier League much attention on TV. The Premier League would be almost exclusively a streaming property.

The tradeoff is that ESPN’s actual production and studio programming is likely to be better than most offerings from NBC, CBS and FOX, with constant promotion of the league, the “greatest show on earth” via the Disney family of media properties. But does that offset being on linear television?

In my opinion, no. But without a doubt the proposition will tempt some in the Premier League if Disney flashes the cash for exclusive rights.

Second, let’s look at two different potential options for the packages among major media entities and break down each possibility. The two potential package options we will analyze are one partner gaining exclusive rights to all 380 yearly Premier League matches and a potential even 190/190 match split between two media partners.

 

NBC Sports
NBC Sports: One of the US broadcasters battling for Premier League rightsStrengthsWeaknesses

8 years of solid Premier League coverage; NBC’s Fan Fests have helped grow league across country; Studio talent and commentators enjoy critical success; High level of soccer IQPeacock technical issues; Reluctance to make all games available via streaming; Telemundo is still not in HD in many markets




Spanish-language networkStreaming service

Telemundo and UniversoPeacock TV




Channels availableKey factor

NBC, USA, CNBC, Telemundo, UniversoPremier League would continue to give Comcast ability to stem subscribers cutting the cord.

NBCUniversal retaining the rights would mean a mix of Comcast-owned channels including the NBC network, USA, CNBC and Peacock. The networks of NBCUniversal are still in the position to offer the Premier League more matches on linear television than any other potential broadcast partner. The only obstacle facing NBC on its over-the-air channel is the same as it has been the last nine seasons – golf. And with the PGA Tour season calendar significantly different than it was in 2013 when NBC began broadcasting the league, the schedule works out better for the network.

Realistically, NBCUniversal can probably air 3-4 matches each Premier League matchday on linear television, including one a week (with a few exceptions) on the NBC network. The remaining 60-65% of matches would likely be aired on NBCUniversal’s streaming service, Peacock. While that might not sound a great deal for viewers accustomed to well over half the matches on TV, that’s probably the best linear-to-streaming ratio possible.

A possible issue is NBC’s diminishing amount of bumper programming that is actually aired on linear TV regarding the Premier League. However, so long as NBC continues to stream those programs on Peacock and carry Premier League TV as a stand-alone channel within Peacock, the league will probably be satisfied.

Which broadcaster is the best fit

Analyzing all of the above broadcasters, there is no one ideal partner that has everything the Premier League wants. Each of them have their own limitations.

We believe the Premier League realizes that. For instance, that is why the Premier League has decided to offer broadcasters a choice of four packages. Here are the package options, according to The Athletic.

The first is the status quo: all 380 matches, to be split between the bidder’s various platforms. The second is new: all 380 games but shared on a co-exclusive basis between two partners.

The third and fourth are single, exclusive packages of 190 games each. One package would bring the first-, third-, fifth-, seventh- and ninth-choice games in odd rounds of matches, and the second, fourth, sixth, eighth and 10th picks in even rounds. The other package would flip the picks.

Given that there is a distinct possibility that the Premier League may decide to partner with more than one broadcaster, here is my analysis about the likely possibilities:

Could an NBC & CBS partnership work?

This would give the Premier League two of the traditional “big three” broadcast networks invested in English top flight soccer. The networks would trade-off picks every week in terms of top matches. This would allow maximum linear broadcast windows and permit both networks to schedule around existing commitments to other sports, most notably golf on Saturdays.

Benefits of a NBC & ESPN partnership

Given the enmity between Comcast and Disney at the corporate level, this would make a very uncomfortable shotgun marriage at many levels but it could work. The power of NBC’s linear channels and Disney’s growing presence on the streaming side would put the league in a unique position.

In addition, the marketing presence of both entities would be a dream for the Premier League. The prospect of being promoted by two media giants might be too good to pass up if an offer that split the rights between these two was on the table.

ESPN’s pragmatism with sports rights has been notable. Firstly, they have displayed a willingness to split the NBA’s cable package with Turner for two decades. Secondly, the new NHL package has a similar splits. Thirdly, splits abound for many college football conferences with CBS or FOX.

FOX & CBS?

In theory, this could work as FOX could air many matches on FS1 and FS2. CBS could air the occasional linear match with lots of Paramount+ content. In addition, CBS’ original studio programming around soccer might appeal to the Premier League.

However, it is difficult to see this partnership leading to the level of promotion that the league probably wants in the US market. In addition, FOX’s lack of a strong OTT streaming presence means that the entire streaming component of the deal likely ends up with CBS.

FOX & NBC – the last two Premier League rights-holders

This in theory would work with lots of broadcast windows for linear on both. However, FOX’s lack of a viable OTT streaming platform is an issue. Tubi could potentially be this but is not established enough as an option for live sports events yet. And it’s doubtful the Premier League would want to take a chance on it. This combination is not viable unless all streaming is given to NBC’s Peacock.

Could ESPN & CBS be the winning formula?

This split would be particularly intriguing as these are the two media entities most invested in club soccer at the current moment. The bumper programming produced in-house at both networks would be high-end. But again, like with other possibilities, ESPN’s piece would be largely streaming. However, the promotion capabilities of Disney’s media empire combined with the visibility CBS would give the league makes this potentially an outstanding combination for the Premier League.

Last but not least, FOX & ESPN

Even though this same exact split occurred in the 2009-13 time period for the US Premier League rights, neither network has adequate broadcast windows to make this work. It works for MLS because of the March to November calendar, but one could argue it does not really work once college football season begins.

This combination, though it was viable in the past, would simply not work well for the Premier League in the 2020’s.

The outsider: Amazon interest

How a combination of a broadcast network and Amazon Prime would look is difficult to forecast. I had believed the Premier League might break out a separate package of midweek and holiday fixtures for Amazon in the U.S. However, there is no indication based on published reports nor our own sourcing that the Premier League will do such a thing. So, Amazon likely has to partner with another entity or bid for the entire 380 match package, without a broadcast partner.

Recently, I felt Amazon had a real shot at securing a portion of the rights or the entire package. But in the last 18 months, there have been a lot of changes. Firstly, NBC’s interest in the Premier League rights has bounced back. Secondly, CBS has emerged as a huge player in the soccer space. Thirdly, FOX has renewed its commitment to the sport. For FOX, that seemed unlikely at the start of 2020.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, the Premier League has many options for its next US TV deal. It needs to weigh distribution as a key factor along with whomever bids the most.

The deadline for the broadcasters to submit their bids to the Premier League is November 8. Ultimately, the Premier League will decide which package to select. As a result, we will then know who will broadcast the English league from the 2022/23 season onwards.

What opinions do you have about the US broadcasters battling for Premier League rights? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Additional reporting and analysis by Christopher Harris

25+ Channels With Sports & News
  • Starting price: $33/mo. for fubo Latino Package
  • Watch Premier League, Liga MX, MLS & World Cup
  • Includes ESPN, FOX, Univision, TUDN and more
Favorite Leagues At The Best Price
  • Starting price: $7.99/mo. for Live TV Package
  • Watch Argentine league, Brasileirāo and Copa Libertadores
  • Includes beIN SPORTS, GolTV, TyC Sports and more
Many Sports & ESPN Originals
  • Price: $6.99/mo. (or get ESPN+, Hulu & Disney+ for $13.99/mo.)
  • Features LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, Copa del Rey & more
  • Also includes daily ESPN FC news & highlights show
Live TV, Soccer & Originals
  • Starting price: $4.99/mo.
  • Features Champions League, Serie A, Europa League & more
  • Includes CBS, Star Trek & CBS Sports HQ
175 Premier League Games & PL TV
  • Starting price: $4.99/mo. for Peacock Premium
  • Watch 175 exclusive EPL games per season
  • Includes Premier League TV channel plus movies, TV shows & more
Get All 3 And Save 30%
  • $13.99/mo. for ESPN+, Disney+ & Hulu
  • Includes Bundesliga, LaLiga, NHL & the home to UFC
  • Features Marvel, Star Wars + shows & movies for your entire family

55 Comments

  1. Graham October 21, 2021
  2. Stephen October 21, 2021
  3. Daniel October 21, 2021
  4. Ra October 21, 2021
  5. John Ketcham October 21, 2021
  6. nickp91 October 21, 2021
  7. Mercator October 21, 2021
  8. ToffeeFever October 21, 2021
  9. JP October 21, 2021
  10. Roberto October 21, 2021
  11. greg October 21, 2021
  12. Garry Myrwold October 21, 2021
  13. Fechin October 21, 2021
  14. Fahad October 21, 2021
  15. Tayo October 21, 2021
  16. Fechin October 21, 2021
  17. mk October 21, 2021
  18. mk October 21, 2021
  19. Dave October 21, 2021
  20. Bob M McQueen October 21, 2021
  21. Me October 21, 2021
  22. Roberto October 21, 2021
  23. Bill Victor October 21, 2021
  24. Yespage October 21, 2021
  25. James October 21, 2021
  26. Jasinho October 21, 2021
  27. Michael F October 21, 2021
  28. Hans October 21, 2021
  29. David the Yank October 21, 2021
  30. Futbol is Life October 21, 2021
  31. Michael F October 21, 2021
  32. Ivan October 21, 2021
  33. Leo October 21, 2021
  34. Dan N. October 22, 2021
  35. Hans October 22, 2021
  36. Paul K Redd October 22, 2021
  37. WC Dave October 22, 2021
  38. WC Dave October 22, 2021
  39. Rich October 22, 2021
  40. locofooty October 22, 2021
  41. Michael F October 22, 2021
  42. Michael F October 22, 2021
  43. disco george October 22, 2021
  44. Ra October 22, 2021
  45. WC Dave October 22, 2021
  46. Dan N. October 22, 2021
  47. greg October 22, 2021
  48. Mario Garcia October 23, 2021
  49. Michael October 23, 2021
  50. greg October 23, 2021
  51. Michael October 23, 2021
  52. Jared L Sloan October 26, 2021
  53. Mᵜāz Kalīm October 26, 2021
  54. Cpcva October 26, 2021

Leave a Reply

Translate »