SBJ/Oct. 14-20, 2013/Media

UEFA prepares for Champions League bidding in U.S.; several expected to pursue rights

U.S. television networks have been told that UEFA will begin accepting bids on rights to the Champions League before Thanksgiving, according to several sources.

UEFA officials told the networks to submit bids next month for a new deal that will start after the 2014-15 season. As with past media rights deals for the Champions League, contract lengths are expected to last three years.

Several suitors are expected to make bids for rights to the European soccer league, including Fox Sports Media Group, which is the current rights holder, NBC Sports Group and ESPN. Sources suggest beIN Sport will look into making a bid, as well.

Fox Sports showed this year’s UEFA Champions League final, in which Bayern Munich defeated Borussia Dortmund.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Sources say they wouldn’t be surprised to see the rights fee for the Champions League approach $100 million per year in its new deal. NBC Sports Group is paying $83 million per year for the English Premier League, and networks view the Champions League — which features the best teams from across Europe in a season played from August through May — as a higher profile property.

It’s not known how much Fox pays as part of its current deal. The media company quietly renewed its deal with UEFA in December 2010. At the time, UEFA opted to renew with Fox rather than take the rights to the open market.

The league’s TV time slots, however, are working against it. Games typically are played weekday afternoons in the U.S., when few fans can watch.

The Champions League saw its viewership drop last season. The 17 UEFA Champions League games across Fox Soccer Channel, FX and Fox averaged 334,000 viewers. The previous season, 17 UEFA Champions League games averaged 353,000 viewers.

The Champions League final game is played on a Saturday afternoon and carried on Fox’s broadcast channel in May. Last season’s final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund averaged 1.4 million viewers, down sharply from the 2011 final, which featured FC Barcelona and Manchester United (2.6 million viewers).

But UEFA is shopping its rights to a market that has several media companies clamoring for live sports rights.

Fox is eager to keep the rights. The network believes Champions League programming could be used to complement the FIFA World Cup tournaments that it will produce in 2018 and 2022. Plus, Fox needs live content to help program its two new all-sports channels in Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2, which launched Aug. 17.

NBC Sports Group also is considered a likely bidder for its all-sports network. NBC surprised the sports media industry last year by picking up EPL rights. It has put a lot of marketing muscle behind the EPL, and says its ratings performance has exceeded expectations. Through Sept. 29, NBCSN has averaged 381,000 viewers for EPL games, and NBC’s five Saturday afternoon games have averaged 822,000.

Though it has lost rights to the World Cup and EPL, ESPN still is a big player in soccer. It is producing the World Cup next year and has the UEFA European championships through 2016. ESPN currently is in an exclusive negotiating window for a package of MLS and U.S. men’s national team games.

Like the other sports networks, beIN Sport needs to add live content to its schedule to complement deals it has with the top Italian, French and Spanish leagues.

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