NBC’s retention of the Premier League’s US TV rights, for a reported $2.7 billion over six years, is a huge get for the company. The involvement of CBS and ESPN (among other companies) in the bidding pushed the price up to more than $400 million per season, more than the $250 million NBC paid over three years in its first contract with the Premier League, and more than double the $150 million or so the company pays on its current six year deal. Over two contracts, the value of the Premier League’s rights have increased more than fivefold.
Based on that information, it’s easy to say that NBC overpaid. And maybe they did – that’s a lot of money! But NBC reportedly didn’t even have the high bid. Jim Miller reported that a combined WarnerMedia/Fox bid topped NBC’s eventual winning offer, suggesting that it wasn’t an overpay at all.
Looking at this deal from another angle, NBC had to keep the Premier League after losing the NHL earlier this year. Losing one tentpole set of rights is one thing. But losing two? That would have been a massive blow to the NBC Sports brand. The company would have lost 380 live events (not that all of those air cable and broadcast, mind you) along with the associated shoulder programming. The Premier League’s shift to USA this January (following the shutdown of NBCSN at the end of the year) will help replace reruns with live programming on weekend mornings (and some weekday afternoons), further increasing the value of USA to NBC and various cable and satellite providers. Without the Premier League, NBC would have much less leverage in those renegotiations, especially with cable-exclusive matches seemingly remaining off Peacock (to start, at least) in this contract.
In a way, losing the NHL’s rights helped pave the way for NBC to bid so high for the Premier League. The NHL package, split between ESPN and Turner, cost the two companies a total of $625 million per season. If NBC wanted to retain both the NHL and Premier League, they probably would have had to dish out somewhere around $1 billion per year to the two leagues. Under its last deal with the NHL, NBC was paying around $200 million per year, along with the $150 millionish that the Premier League was getting. NBC isn’t getting anything new with their Premier League package and has lost all of the NHL’s primetime windows, but in terms of raw cash outlay for live rights, they’re not much further off than where they were a year ago.
The shutdown of NBCSN also somewhat helps in this regard. Instead of needing to fill those ex-NHL primetime windows (after the next six weeks) with comparable content, NBC can lean on USA’s scripted programming and reruns. It’s not that marquee live content that networks lust over, but it’s better than rerunning older sports events.
And then, there’s Peacock. NBC still isn’t making the full schedule of Premier League matches available on its streaming service, as we’ve seen with both the Bundesliga and La Liga on ESPN+ and the Champions League and Serie A on Paramount+. I think that reflects the tough position NBC finds itself in. The Premier League has been a fixture on NBC’s platforms since 2013, and in that first contract, all 380 matches were available with a cable subscription. The Premier League Pass came along in 2017, eliminating that authenticated streaming for all matches and paywalling the ones that weren’t televised. Three years later, Peacock launched, and that Premier League Pass content was rolled into the new streaming platform, bringing us to the situation we currently find ourselves in. Instead of getting access to all the matches with either a cable or direct to consumer package, fans need both. That’s becoming a tougher sell when you don’t need the cable subscription for the other top European leagues, and it’s going to be tough for NBC to keep that balancing act up in the coming years.
All of these points would have been moot had NBC lost the rights to the Premier League. The company would have been boxed into a corner, with the most significant rights packages up for grabs in the next couple of seasons being the NBA and MLS. Neither would fill the unique scheduling shoes of the Premier League, and an NBA package would probably end up costing more than what NBC paid for the Premier League. By retaining the Premier League’s rights, NBC keeps one of its most valuable properties, and also will continue its weekend morning domination from August to May.