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Volume 25 No. 154
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ESPN Went All-In For Serie A Rights After Ronaldo-Juventus News

Once Ronaldo joined Juventus, ESPN furthered its push for all of the available Serie A inventory
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

ESPN Exec VP/Programming & Scheduling Burke Magnus said that when news broke last month that Cristiano Ronaldo was joining Juventus, it was a "massive stroke of good fortune" for the net, which at the time had "secured about 90 percent of Serie A inventory from IMG" in the U.S., according to Richard Deitsch of THE ATHLETIC. Magnus said, "Originally we were going to take a big portion of the package but not the entire package. That piece of the negotiation was done prior to his announcement." Magnus, "[Ronaldo's] decision got us interested in a comprehensive rights agreement. With him there, we wanted to have control of 100 percent of the inventory." Once the Ronaldo news was announced, IMG had "additional suitors inquiring about specific Juventus games, but ESPN was able to close on a three-year deal to acquire the U.S media rights to all 390 Serie A games." Magnus expects ESPN will "pick up the English-speaking world feed broadcast but reserved the possibility of ESPN announcers calling a game of major importance onsite one day." Magnus said that the negotiations for Serie A started "shortly after ESPN+ launched on April 12." ESPN officials were "pleased with the streaming metrics for MLS games" and that increased the net’s "appetite to add more soccer long-term for its streaming product." Since the Serie A acquisition, ESPN has also "acquired the streaming rights to the Dutch league as well as Australia’s Hyundai A-League, the Chinese Super League and Westfield W-League (the top women’s league in Australia)." The company is "clearly using global soccer as an inducement to get people to sign up for ESPN+" (THEATHLETIC.com, 8/15).

BIGGER PICTURE: In this week's SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL, John Ourand writes the ESPN-Serie A deal "represents only one part of a larger story." As part of the three-year, $165M deal that it signed with IMG, sources said that ESPN also "ended up with the rights to England's popular FA Cup." ESPN "picked up the Serie A rights from beIN Sports, which had been paying" around $28M per year on average for the past three years. Sources said that the net "picked up the FA Cup rights from Fox Sports, which had been paying an average" of around $6M per year for the past three years. IMG last October "picked up Serie A's global rights" through '21. MP & Silva had previously "held those rights." Meanwhile, one of the questions surrounding new ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro "dealt with whether he valued soccer as much as former President John Skipper." This deal "offered an emphatic answer to that question: he does." Pitaro's ESPN "may not spend as freely on soccer rights as Skipper’s ESPN did." But it is "clear that ESPN will remain committed to the sport under Pitaro" (SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL, 8/13 issue).