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What does the Turner Sports deal mean for U.S. Soccer?

What does the Turner Sports deal mean for U.S. Soccer?

The US Soccer Federation (USSF) has sold their English-language broadcast rights to WarnerMedia, whose sports coverage is anchored by Turner Sports for the period that spans 2023 to 2030. This package includes US Men’s and Women’s National Team home matches, She Believes Cup, any potential USSF-hosted men’s national team competition (most likely in 2025) and the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, one of the oldest domestic club cup competitions on the planet. The question is, what does the Turner Sports deal mean for U.S. Soccer?

This deal is the first made individually by US Soccer in two decades, without the bundling of rights with MLS via Soccer United Marketing. The announcement will mean that absent acquiring away rights to individual US matches, or signing a deal with Concacaf, ESPN will not broadcast any US Soccer matches after 2022 for almost four years. FOX Sports’ coverage will be limited to major tournaments. CBS will continue to broadcast the Concacaf Nations League, including US matches until the end of 2023.

Recovering from the Bleacher Report debacle

While many soccer fans in the United States associate Turner with the botched B/R Live coverage of UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, (coverage that ended prematurely as the rights were transferred to CBS Sports during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic), the broadcaster has lots of positive experience in broadcasting sports.

The B/R Live experiment failed, and our sources indicate that this go-round with soccer, WarnerMedia and Turner Sports will be much more traditional with their coverage. The B/R Live branded UEFA coverage was designed to be edgy and appealing to younger fans, but it instead turned off many long-standing soccer supporters.

Presumably the move of rights to WarnerMedia beginning in 2023 will have a completely different feel than the UEFA coverage. For starters, sources indicate to us that WarnerMedia plans to use its own talent on the broadcasts rather than a world feed. Secondly, with the pending merger between WarnerMedia and Discovery networks, additional soccer experience and knowledge will be brought in-house to the merged entity.

Soccer experience overseas and in women’s soccer

It’s often forgotten in the US market, but Discovery is a major player in sports broadcasting including soccer on the European continent.

In addition, Turner did broadcast women’s soccer matches from the US in the early 2000’s, including several Atlanta Beat matches that featured Cindy Parlow Cone as a star player. Parlow Cone is now the President of US Soccer and was involved in the negotiation of this deal with WarnerMedia.

Turner Sports’ advantages over ESPN

It’s almost certain that the types of broadcast windows and bumper coverage US Soccer will find on WarnerMedia will be far superior to ESPN, which has recently taken the approach of often shoehorning programming in-between other sports. The production value and talent could also be superior to FOX Sports’ coverage, given Discovery’s experience and Turner’s own outstanding NBA, NCAA Basketball and MLB coverage.

One of the complaints recently voiced to me by a US Soccer insider about ESPN’s coverage of US Soccer, was how the She Believes Cup, an annual women’s national team competition, was given poor time slots and limited bumper coverage by ESPN. It’s ironic that a week after a US-New Zealand game was bumped up to ABC, ESPN has lost the rights to the competition.

ESPN’s inability to commit to linear programming before and after US Men’s National Team (USMNT) qualifiers as well as CBS Sports’ use of streaming to exclusively air USMNT qualifiers has created a desire among many fans for broader national team coverage on linear TV. With the announcement that TNT or TBS will televise approximately ten matches each year, TNT and TBS can provide the types of broadcast windows ESPN and CBS have failed to provide in the last six months.

What does the Turner Sports deal mean for U.S. Soccer?

Additionally, frustration about the promotion and visibility of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup has reached a boiling point among many fans. WarnerMedia has the bandwidth to really promote the competition. Turner Sports’ experience with the similarly-formatted NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament (a property they share with CBS Sports) also could help in how they broadcast the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.

Some concerns do persist with this deal. As of press time, HBO Max is a streaming package that is not sports-specific. For many soccer fans, it’ll mean subscribing to another new streaming service. Plans start at $9.99 per month.

An additional concern is that WarnerMedia does not own its own over-the-air broadcast network, so every match will be on cable or streaming, a marked change from a recent era when FOX over-the-air network and ABC have televised US National Team matches, including friendlies, on both the men’s and women’s side.

Overall though, despite whatever qualms some fans have about WarnerMedia and Turner Sports, this deal is likely a positive development for not only the broadcaster and US Soccer, but for fans as well. WarnerMedia is likely to put substantial effort into the broadcasts, and to air matches on linear television with a robust streaming component.

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  1. Michael

    March 3, 2022 at 5:17 pm

    We have access to more Soccer than in any other place in the entire world. That is amazing to me. Think about it. It is easier to watch the EPL in US that it is in London. It is easier to watch La Liga in the US than in Barcelona. I must admit. I do spend almost an hour every day being entertained by most of us fans on the WST threads complaining about everything. I’m just happy that we have so much to complain about.

    • Michael F

      March 3, 2022 at 11:30 pm

      @Michael. Well said and its right on.

  2. JP

    March 3, 2022 at 11:15 am

    @greg, the 1990 WC on TNT is the 1st one I followed and have great memories as well. Came down with the chicken pox that summer so ended up watching more than normally would’ve as an almost 12 year old non soccer fan (at the time). Also made my 1st trip to Italy that year and the WC final was the 1st night we arrived, watched it after dinner. Too bad Italy lost in the semis, would’ve been amazing if they got to the final on home soil.

  3. greg

    March 3, 2022 at 11:04 am

    While Turner was mostly shoddy with the UCL, I still have a fond memory of them showing the 1990 World Cup. If I recall correctly, Ernie Jones made a name for himself then, doing a decent job of presenting a sport that at the time didn’t have a deep well of US-based talent to handle commentary & studio shows. And back then there was almost no decent US broadcasts of international soccer, so even the little bit that Turner showed then was a godsend.

  4. Yespage

    March 2, 2022 at 2:57 pm

    “WarnerMedia is likely to put substantial effort into the broadcasts, and to air matches on linear television with a robust streaming component.”

    Cart before horse there. Hopefully this works better than the first try. It isn’t all behind a paywall, that’s good. US Open again hidden from existence. Well, that isn’t new. So it isn’t the end of the world. I don’t see this as great though as being on Cable verses OTA is a bit of a hit for eyeballs, but everyone has TNT and TBS on cable/sat.

  5. Taylor

    March 1, 2022 at 8:47 pm

    Turner’s contribution to game coverage of the ncaa basketball tournament has been, bluntly, very poor. The shine of their sports coverage (nba, ncaa, nhl) is almost entirely reliant on the presence of a singular talent, Charles Barkley. I remain very dubious of said “superior bumper coverage” versus espn. The plain truth is that the espn app, social feeds and espn2 provides more opportunities for general sports fan awareness than the best TNT/TBS windows.

    • dave

      March 1, 2022 at 11:28 pm

      @Taylor, what are your concerns with Turner for March Madness? I find the CBS/Turner collaboration excellent – every game televised start to finish, every game available on a good-performing app, plenty of pre-game and post-game, Barkley is a fun listen, etc. I would be happy if soccer gets anything like that from Turner.
      I share your skepticism about how Turner may treat US Soccer. Partly it is their history with the very poor B/R app. Partly it is the idea of $15 for a month of HBO Max to watch She Believes.
      Each year Turner pay ~$250 million for NHL, ~$500 million for MLB, ~$500 million for March Madness, and ~$1 billion for NBA. How much does $25 million per year move the needle for them, especially when some games in the package are far from must-watch? We will find out.

      • Taylor

        March 1, 2022 at 11:40 pm

        The ncaa tournament is mostly a CBS production in terms of behind-the-scenes game crews. Turner improves with studio coverage (ie Barkley, who is great of course. But he won’t help them in soccer studio coverage). Turner’s biggest contribution to NCAA tournament is three cable networks CBS didn’t have at the time and a big check to help keep the tournament away from espn in 2010 (background. CBS was gonna lose the tournament until Turner came with the big check:

        IMO Turner doesn’t offer those sports you mention top-tier game coverage (ask baseball fans about their MLB postseason games, their lower ratings than ESPN for NHL so far this year etc).

        • D

          March 2, 2022 at 12:26 pm

          Turner’s NHL coverage has been pretty well received and ratings should normalize next season with the AEW conflict removed- so there will be East/Central primetime games all season which Turner could not do this year (NHL created the package assuming NBC/USA/Peacock would keep it at any price- when instead NBC decided that it wants national exclusivity or nothing on most sports properties).

          In general, this should work out just fine for national team fans if the highest profile games are on both streaming and linear.

        • dave

          March 2, 2022 at 4:16 pm

          @Taylor, thank you for the link, I had forgotten the history of how Turner got involved. I remember the days of the local CBS affiliate deciding which games I would watch, so adding Turner channels and the app was a home run with me. I also enjoy the irony of ESPN writing an article about what ESPN will do, citing a third party as their source.

  6. Walldo

    March 1, 2022 at 6:35 pm

    This is awful. Tiempo a practicar Español!

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