In one of the most shocking rights deals in recent memory, the English-language UEFA Champions League rights will be leaving Turner following the 2020-21 tournament, and will reportedly be landing with…CBS Sports?
Yep, it’s true. According to John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal, CBS Sports has won the English-language Champions League rights, while Univision has retained its Spanish-language rights for three tournaments, running from 2021 through 2024. The total value is reportedly $150 million per year, an increase of roughly 50% on what Turner and Univision are currently paying.
Ourand also reports that the Champions League matches will be on a hodgepodge of CBS networks, including the broadcast channel (I’m assuming this will only be for the final, since the group and knockout stage matches take place on weekday afternoons), CBS Sports Network, and CBS All-Access, the network’s streaming platform. Like B/R Live, where the bulk of Champions League matches air, CBS All-Access costs $9.99 a month.
In his article, Ourand noted that most of the expected competition made bids for the rights, including current rightsholder Turner, ESPN, an NBC/Telemundo joint bid, and former rightsholder Fox (in a bid “not said to be as aggressive” as the other suitors).
The immediate reaction for fans is probably relief, as Turner’s coverage has not been well-received (Steve Nash, soccer analyst!) and has also dealt with its share of technical issues over the year-plus that Turner has aired Champions League matches. CBS All-Access (as mentioned above) costs the same per month as B/R Live (though it currently does not have the pay per match option that B/R Live has pioneered).
However, CBS Sports Network is carried in far fewer households than TNT (so much fewer that it’s not even listed in carriage estimates), meaning that fans with some cable packages will be left out in the cold. Also, with just the one cable network and the broadcast network (which, again, I don’t expect to show weekday matches), it’s not as if fans will be getting more matches each matchday with their cable subscription.
The main key here for viewers will be how CBS decides to cover the Champions League. Some quick and dirty research reveals they have barely aired any soccer in 40+ years (UPDATE: they briefly aired the NASL in 2016), so it’s not as if they have analysts on the payroll to slot into their coverage. Will they look into hiring established analysts from other networks? Will they go the Turner route and slot unconventional analysts into studio roles? Will they just say “screw it” and not have studio coverage at all? We’ll have to wait and see, given that we’re nearly two years out from their Champions League debut, but today, I’m sure a lot of American fans are feeling relief at Turner getting bumped out of soccer coverage after just over a year.