As it’s closing out a 20 year era with the World Cup, ESPN is now looking at the next eight years to keep its footing with the beautiful game. Even though it won’t air a men’s or women’s World Cup until 2025 at the earliest, ESPN will still keep its hand in soccer.
It will continue to air Major League Soccer thanks to a contract that begins in 2015 and will run concurrent with Fox’s World Cup contract. That contract will allow the network to keep airing U.S. men’s national team World Cup qualifiers.
And in 2016, ESPN will air the UEFA European Championship, an event that has been in ESPN’s portfolio since 2008.
With the English Premier League expected to put the American rights back up for bid next year, ESPN and Fox will once again team up in attempt wrest the contract away from NBC.
But with UEFA Champions League and the German Bundesliga locked with Fox for several years, ESPN will have to pick and choose the rights it wants to pick up until FIFA’s next set of rights become available.
It will continue to cover soccer through its studio show, ESPN FC and its companion website, but if it fails to obtain the English Premier League will the commitment continue? That remains to be seen.
But give credit to ESPN. It could have skimped on production values and talent for its last World Cup. Networks have traditionally cut back when they’re in the lame duck final year of a contract, but ESPN has elected to go all out and make the 2014 FIFA World Cup one to remember by giving other outlets some food for thought on how to send off an event and hand it off to another network.
After the World Cup, the Worldwide Leader will have plenty of time to rebuild its soccer portfolio. By 2025, we’ll see if ESPN has made a full recovery or just a partial one.