We’re in the final season of NBC’s current six-year deal with the Premier League, signed way back at the start of the 2015-16 season. That deal represented a stunning doubling of the previous contract, going from three years and a total of $250 million to six years and a total of $1 billion.
Heading into the latest round of negotiations, the Premier League is reportedly setting their sights high once again. Per Bloomberg, the English top flight league is looking to once again double its annual rights fee, seeking $300 million per season.
Comcast paid $150 million a year under the previous deal, and expects it will cost more than $300 million a year for a renewal, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing an internal matter. That would bring the total value of the deal to at least $2 billion.
The Bloomberg piece emphasizes that NBC wants to retain the Premier League (a feeling that was probably enhanced after losing the NHL to ESPN and Turner Sports), but it will have plenty of competition this time around from ESPN, CBS, and, perhaps strangely, WarnerMedia.
The bidding is expected to be fierce, with several of the world’s largest media companies seeking programming to boost their incipient streaming services. ESPN, WarnerMedia, and ViacomCBS Inc. are all expected to bid on the rights, and would offer to put some games on linear TV and others on their streaming services.
Before the merger of AT&T and Time Warner was approved stateside, Turner Sports stunningly won the rights for the UEFA Champions and Europa League heading into the 2018-19 campaign. The company opted out of the rights deal last summer, allowing new rightsholder CBS Sports to take over a year early. That opt-out seemed to spell the end for the company’s soccer aspirations, but perhaps the Premier League, with its weekend-heavy schedule, is a different prospect for the company than the midweek-heavy Champions and Europa League.
There’s also the Discovery element here. Back in 2015, Discovery was reportedly the runner-up to NBC for the Premier League package. WarnerMedia and Discovery are in the early stages of a merger, and going back to the well six years later could make sense given that history.
Unsurprisingly, streaming will be a significant component of any deal for Premier League rights, despite potential hangups from ownership.
Streaming services like Disney’s ESPN+, ViacomCBS Inc.’s Paramount+ and Comcast’s Peacock are turning to sports to draw new customers and help them compete with larger services like Netflix Inc.
Still, some EPL owners have grumbled at having more matches on streaming services and various cable networks, saying viewership flags when fans can’t find the programming.
Streaming has been a key part of both of NBC’s deals with the Premier League. In the company’s initial three-year deal, every match was available to those with an authenticated login. In the latest deal, those matches were only available for an additional fee with the Premier League Pass, which was eventually folded into Peacock after last summer’s launch. No matter which company wins the Premier League’s rights this time around, most matches will be behind a streaming paywall, be it ESPN+, Paramount+, Peacock, or some sort of HBO Max/Discovery+ hybrid.
The investments made into soccer by both ESPN (La Liga, Bundesliga, FA Cup, English Championship, and so on) and CBS (Serie A, Champions League, NWSL, and so on) would make Premier League coverage a natural fit for either company and would bolster their respective streaming services (while also likely coming with a price hike). NBC’s retention of the rights would at least give viewers some familiarity, while a WarnerMedia bid brings the great unknown.
Any potential broadcast/cable games would also bring challenges. ESPN already has commitments to La Liga and the Bundesliga, and its airwaves are dominated across all networks in the fall by both college football and the NFL. CBS has similar issues (though somewhat less so), with the added issue of just one, less carried sports cable network (CBS Sports Network). NBC has the formula down pat, but the impending shutdown of NBCSN means that the Premier League’s cable home would be USA, hardly a bastion of sports programming.
There are pros and cons for all of the networks rumored to be involved in the bidding, and it’ll be interesting to see if the Premier League takes a little less money from a company that might be a better fit.