Exclusive: Sources tell World Soccer Talk that CBS Sports and Serie A are at a stalemate about the renewal of US media rights to Italy’s top-flight league.
Currently, CBS Sports is in its final season of Serie A coverage from the deal that was signed in 2021. The exclusive US rights run through until the end of the 2023/24 season. After launching the process in June to sell its US media rights, expectations among industry insiders were that a deal would have been announced by now, but talks have hit a major obstacle.
Sources have told World Soccer Talk that executives from both Serie A and CBS Sports have been unable to agree on a renewal and that CBS Sports may be likely to walk away from the renewal deal.
Serie A and CBS Sports: The bone of contention
As recently as September, CBS Sports was optimistic about the chances of renewing the rights to Serie A. At that time, a CBS Sports executive told World Soccer Talk “We’re having conversations [about renewing the deal],” and “We’ve got a lot of momentum with that property.”
For Serie A, everything changed in October when its domestic rights deal with DAZN and Sky in Italy failed to generate the increase in rights fees that the clubs wanted to compete with Europe’s bigger teams. The deal agreed was a five-year deal worth 4.5 billion euros (approximately $4.91 billion). That disappointing figure put more pressure on Serie A to generate greater revenue in the overseas markets. With the United States being the top media market in the world, Serie A knew it needed a sharp increase in rights fees to make up for it.
However, Serie A has been unable to get what it wants.
We’re now at a standstill where Serie A is expecting far more for its US media rights than the reported $75.8 million per year that CBS Sports is currently paying for both Serie A and Coppa Italia. At the same time, the valuation that CBS Sports has put on the renewal offer is significantly less than what Serie A wants. Thus, both CBS Sports and Serie A are at a stalemate.
World Soccer Talk reached out to both CBS Sports and Serie A for comment. A spokesperson for CBS Sports said that the broadcaster’s policy is not to comment on ongoing rights negotiations. Serie A’s spokesperson has not responded.
Analysis: Options are few and far between for Serie A
Serie A finds itself in a very difficult situation. Arguably, Paramount+ has the widest selection of soccer coverage available to viewers in the United States. With games on both linear and streaming, Paramount+ offers matches from the European leagues, South America, women’s soccer, and US domestic leagues, as well as games from Asia. At the same time, the success of the CBS Sports Golazo Network offers the broadcaster the ability to easily cross-promote any of the leagues it has the rights to.
No other broadcaster in the United States has close to the same soccer offering.
It’s important to note too that CBS Sports has given Serie A better coverage of the league in the United States than any other broadcaster has done in the past. Whether it’s the shoulder programming, games being called live from Italy, or expert analysis, Serie A has never before received as much commitment from US sports broadcasters.
Serie A finds itself between a rock and a hard place. It faces the choice of renewing a deal with Paramount+ for less revenue than what it needs or moving games to a different broadcaster for possibly more money but less reach.
Paramount+ has invested heavily in Serie A to give the league the prominence it desires. There’s certainly room for improvement such as showing games on network television. But both CBS Sports and Serie A have to realize that the Italian league is not close to being the most popular soccer league in the United States.
Putting rights fees into perspective
For the 2021/22 through 2023/24 international media rights deals, Serie A secured approximately $762 million in rights fees. That’s a ninth of the sum earned abroad by the Premier League.
Serie A certainly has a lot of work to close the gap, but it shouldn’t come at the price of losing the essential partner CBS Sports in the United States.
Do enough soccer fans in the US care about Serie A?
Italy’s top-flight league is one of the best tactical leagues in the world. In the last several years, TV production has improved, too. But at the end of the day, a league’s popularity is based on the number of viewers paying to watch games. With competition from LaLiga and Premier League on US television each weekend, can Serie A compete? If there are enough soccer fans in the United States who do care, and watch the games legally, and there is growth, then it makes business sense for CBS Sports to spend more on rights fees. But if the viewing numbers have plateaued or regressed, does it make sense for CBS Sports to spend more?
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