The bidding for the rights to the UEFA Champions League from 2015-16 through 2017-18 will be furious, and one of the entities believed to be involved is NBC according to Jonathan Tannenwald at The Goalkeeper. The current rights holder, Fox, and the former rights holder, ESPN, are both also expected to be involved. beIN SPORT is expected to at least make a bid.
UEFA has split the Champions League rights into four packages, covering the English and Spanish broadcasts of both the Champions and Europa League, which will all require separate bids. But the highest bid won’t necessarily be awarded the rights – UEFA is also going to be taking into account “distribution channels (for instance television channels, websites) to be used, programming plans, coverage and level of exposure, to include anticipated audience and estimated market share.”
Essentially, they’re going to be looking at the things that help set NBC, Fox, and ESPN apart from beIN. All three of the established American providers have online streaming capabilities, and Fox and ESPN have the benefit of multiple channels. But NBC actually might have a slight inside track because of their free Extra Time service on cable, allowing viewers to choose which Premier League game to watch. With ESPN and Fox, that option isn’t really there yet – you’re watching what’s available in your area on TV, or you’re streaming it. ESPN would likely throw all of the games on ESPN3 and everything would be fine, but Fox is still working out the kinks with Fox Sports Go, and Fox Soccer Plus costs $14.99 a month for access to all of the games.
Gaining the Champions League rights would be a huge feather in the cap for NBC. The daytime programming on NBCSN has been a wasteland when there aren’t any mid-week Premier League games, and infusing two to four days of soccer per month in the fall (not including a potential Europa League package) would be a complete 180 in terms of ratings from the outdoors shows that NBCSN hasn’t been able to shed from their lineup. With regards to the current Champions league Campaign, they currently have reigning champions Bayern Munich as favourites to take the cup again.
There is also the possibility of a joint bid between ESPN and Fox. ESPN is sublicensing the Spanish radio rights for the Champions League from Fox, and the two partnered on the Pac-12 and Big 12 football rights earlier this year.
Several different things can end up happening here, and I think the fan will end up being the winner when all is said and done. All of the suitors have their pros and their cons, and the winner is probably going to end up coughing up a hefty sum of cash. In my gut, I’m thinking that Fox retains the rights with the World Cup ahead in 2018 and 2022, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see NBC blow everyone out of the water like they did with the Premier League to continue building their own soccer empire.