Turner Sports will launch an OTT sports service next fall with UEFA Champions League and Europa League games. Turner is expected to make an official announcement on its OTT plans this morning as part of a larger formal confirmation of its three-year, $60M English-language rights deal to carry games from the two leagues in the U.S. through ‘20-21. SportsBusiness Journal first wrote about Turner’s UEFA rights deal in February. Univision picked up the Spanish-language rights over three years for around $35M per year. “This is untethered content rights that aren't attached to any of our existing brands,” said Turner President David Levy. “It is an opportunity for us to think about how we keep the current ecosystem healthy with a strong premium video content, build out Bleacher Report with tremendous video content and then start a new OTT business. As consumers have choices and may not subscribe to cable, they’ll still have the opportunity to watch this sport and many other sports when they want and where they want.” Turner outbid BAM Tech, NBC Sports and Fox Sports for the UEFA rights. Combined with Univision’s bid, UEFA is making close to $100M annually from the U.S. market, double its previous deal with Fox. Levy said the financials work for Turner, especially given that it has rights across all platforms. “We don’t go into any businesses without feeling that there’s a profitability that is going to happen within the existing contract,” he said. “Between the portfolio of an over-the-top product, Bleacher Report and our linear channels, we will be able to afford it.”
NO NAME, PRICE YET: The OTT service does not have a name, price point, or other programming yet, according to Turner Sports President Lenny Daniels. “But we’re open for business,” he said. Levy said Turner would target premium content like UEFA, leagues and properties with passionate followings, as well as those that may only have access to television windows at odd times. “This will provide opportunity for sports that don't have a big enough presence but have unique, niche fan bases that can now launch different products with us,” he said. “This is really going to be a unique proposition for the consumer, but also for leagues that don't have the time periods or exposure that they needed.” The UEFA matches work for Turner, since games are played in daytime, mid-week time periods, when people are at school or work and more likely to use a streaming platform. As part of the deal, Turner will produce more than 340 games for OTT and television starting with the ’18-19 season, with Bleacher Report serving as a portal to the OTT service, simulcasting some games. One of Turner’s channels, most likely truTV, will carry four live Champions League games per week through the Group Stage (Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 1:00pm and 3:00pm ET) and two games per week during the Knockout Phase (Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 3:00pm). All other matches will be available via OTT. The Champions League semis and finals will move to TBS or TNT. UEFA Europa League matches will be available via OTT, with the final televised on TBS or TNT. Turner also committed to carry the UEFA Super Cup on TBS or TNT. In addition to non-exclusive live games, Bleacher Report will have shoulder programming, ancillary programming and video clip that it will use on its site and social platforms.
JOINING A CROWDED FIELD: Turner joins other sports networks in launching OTT services. CBS and ESPN earlier this month announced plans for sports-centered OTT services that will launch next year; NBC Sports launched a Premier League Pass OTT service this month; and Fox Sports is relaunching its Fox Soccer 2Go OTT service into Fox Soccer Match Pass. Turner already operates non-sports OTT services, FilmStruck and Boomerang and believes that a sports focused one will be successful, using UEFA games as an anchor. “This isn’t like we’re putting a second-tier sports property on OTT,” Levy said. “This is UEFA’s Champions League and Europa. That’s the foundation that we can build all of this around.”