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Volume 26 No. 203
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SBJ Media: Turner Ends Champions League Deal Early

The sports comeback that most excites me? Forget the NBA, MLB or MLS. I just set up my first tee times since the pandemic hit for next Thursday and Friday on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

  

TURNER OPTING OUT OF REMAINDER OF UEFA DEAL

  • Turner Sports told UEFA that it has opted out of its Champions League contract -- a move that probably means that Turner will not carry any more matches, according to multiple sources. SBJ’s Mark J. Burns and I have been pursuing this story for the past couple of days and learned that Turner execs called UEFA last week to say that it will exercise a clause in its contract to get out of carrying league games when it starts up again this summer and for all of next season. Univision still holds Spanish-language rights to the UCL through 2024.

  • UEFA will look to re-sell English-language rights for the next two seasons over the next several weeks. Sources said that UEFA has not held any discussions with potential U.S. media companies for the rights this year and next. CBS is the most logical partner, given that last November the network agreed to buy the rights to the event from the fall of 2021 to the spring of 2024. ESPN, NBC, Fox, Amazon and DAZN also should expect calls. A possibility still exists that UEFA will ask Turner to carry the games this August, completing the season that Turner already started until play was suspended in March.

  • The big question will come down to price, particularly this year. In August, the UCL will be staged as a single-elimination tournament in Portugal. UCL play was suspended in mid-March due to COVID-19. CBS and Univision will pay a combined $150 million per year; Turner and Univision’s current deal is valued at close to $100 million per year, with Turner paying more than $60 million per year. It is not known how much CBS committed to pay as part of the new deal.

  • Turner shocked the business in 2017 when it grabbed the UCL rights, partially as a way to build a subscriber base for its streaming service B/R Live. During its only full season with tournament, Turner carried marquee games on TNT and streamed the rest of the event. The decision to opt out makes business sense for Turner, given that it already knows that it’s losing rights to CBS in 2021 -- combined with the prolonged stoppage of play this season due to COVID-19. 

  

BUNDESLIGA RIGHTS FEE DECREASE LIKELY AN ABERRATION

  • Even in the midst of a pandemic, MLB is scheduled to see a healthy increase in its media rights fees. So, too, is the NHL. All sources predict that the NFL will break the bank. What, then, should we make of the Bundesliga, which signed a new deal with Sky and DAZN for 2021-25 at a slight decrease? Overall, sources tell me these rights fee decreases are an aberration, not a trend. Still, my sources point to two takeaways that shouldn’t be overlooked.

  • First, Amazon didn’t show up. It was poised to make a splash in Germany. The platform secured a small package of UEFA Champions League rights in the country and picked up a Bundesliga package for the current season. Early indications were that the company had its eye on future rights, but Amazon was not active, even in a down market. Amazon wants to be in the sports business. But this is another example where the company has shied away from a major package. Look for Amazon to continue to be surgical with live sports rights -- grabbing small-but-important packages like English Premier League games in the U.K. on Boxing Day. But don’t look for the company to treat sports with the same importance as traditional media companies -- at least not yet.

  • Second, don’t write off DAZN. Virtually every week during the pandemic, somebody has told me to write the story that DAZN is running out of money. This deal shows me that DAZN will stick around for the time being. This deal is a good one for the streamer, which went from sub-licensing one, non-exclusive game per week to directly licensing three exclusive games per week -- one on Friday nights and two on Sunday afternoons. It’s believed to be the largest package of domestic soccer rights in Europe sold to a streaming service.

  • Combined with DAZN’s Champions League deal, which also starts in 2021, this deal gives the streaming service a toe-hold in the German market. The U.S. market is much more mature when it comes to sports rights and will be harder for the service to get an exclusive package that matters. But the Bundesliga deal suggests that DAZN will be at the table -- checkbook in hand -- as U.S. media rights come up, particularly with the NFL Sunday Ticket package.

 

 

ESPN TAKING LEAD ON MLS BUBBLE BROADCASTS

  • MLS and ESPN are close to finalizing the TV production details around a planned Orlando tournament, which starts July 8. This is what we know so far. ESPN will be the host broadcaster, with VP/Production Amy Rosenfeld overseeing the production team that will produce all 54 of the tournament’s matches. That means that ESPN will send the game feed to Fox, Univision and international broadcasters, like TSN, which will carry all the matches in Canada.

  • Production items that you should expect to see:

    • ESPN (22 matches) and ESPN2 (six matches) will carry more than half of the games -- 28 of 54. That includes the opener on July 8 and the final on Aug. 11. Fox and Univision will split the rest of the games. ESPN Deportes will carry all 28.

    • Eight matches will start at 9:00am ET, all of which will be on ESPN and ESPN Deportes.

    • Jon Champion and Taylor Twellman will call most matches off-site, most likely from Bristol. Adrian Healey and Alejandro Moreno will call an undetermined number of matches.

    • Richard Mendez and Alex Pareja will be the lead broadcasters for ESPN Deportes, with Mauricio Pedroza and Herculez Gomez calling some matches.

    • General assignment reporter Stefano Fusaro will be inside the bubble, covering the tournament as a sideline reporter. The bilingual Fusaro will appear on both ESPN and ESPN Deportes.

 

SPEED READS

  • NFL telecasts this fall will include sponsor logos on tarps covering the first six-to-eight rows in every stadium, according to SBJ’s Ben Fischer. Teams will be able to sell sponsorships on the tarps, which will be in camera view. “Currently, only sideline sponsors such as Microsoft, Bose, Gatorade and Oakley enjoy brand exposure on the field and other spots TV cameras generally focus.”

  • The Talladega race on Monday (3.36 million viewers) was the most-watched Monday NASCAR race since 2014 (excluding the Daytona 500). Viewership on Fox peaked at 4.8 million for the final laps of one of the most exciting finishes in recent memory.

  • FuboTV subscribers will have access to ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU, ESPNews and ESPN Deportes, in addition to SEC Network and ACC Network in market, as part of a carriage deal announced this afternoon. Disney Media Networks Exec VP/Platform Distribution Sean Breen handled the deal for ESPN; fuboTV co-founder & CEO David Gandler and head of content strategy & acquisition Ben Grad handled it for the streaming platform.

  • No sports? No problem! The UFC Fight Pass streaming service saw a double-digit growth in subscribers during a time when the sports world was on hiatus -- thanks largely to a strategy shift to incorporate more original programming on the platform. UFC’s Crowley Sullivan: “Original content should be a differentiator for all true media content platforms. If you don’t have an original content strategy, you better figure one out.”

  • Snap’s first-ever NewFront presentation saw the company emphasize "original programming as it deepens investments in content and advertising offerings in a bid to attract long-term commitments from sponsors," notes Adweek. Snap said it "reaches 90% of 13-24-year-olds in the United States and 75% of 13-34-year-olds."

  • On the 25th anniversary of the launch of X Games, I will give the last word tonight to ESPN’s Mike Soltys, who posted a picture on Twitter from the second event that screams mid-1990s. Soltys: “My moment #1 was hosting Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter, who included me in improv as we traveled from street luge to sky surfing.” Here’s video of O’Brien’s piece.

 

ESPN's Mike Soltys (r) got to be part of Conan O'Brien's improv during the second X Games
ESPN's Mike Soltys (r) got to be part of Conan O'Brien's improv during the second X Games
ESPN's Mike Soltys (r) got to be part of Conan O'Brien's improv during the second X Games

  

 

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Something on the Media beat catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to either me (jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com) or Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it. Also contributing to this newsletter is Thomas Leary (tleary@sportsbusinessdaily.com).