The current UEFA Champions League U.S. broadcasting deals with CBS and Univision run through 2023-24, and while we don’t yet know what networks and/or streaming services will be involved after that, we do now know who will be selling the rights to broadcasters. Like many soccer governing bodies, UEFA operates under a system of selling rights to marketing firms for a certain guaranteed amount, and those firms then take on the potential risk and reward of the actual TV contracts. Despite pitches from other agencies, UEFA has again sold the 2024-27 global rights to long-time partner TEAM Marketing, but they did something different with the U.S. rights for that span, selling them to Relevent Sports Group (owned and co-founded by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, currently in the headlines for a very different story). Here’s more on that from Tariq Panja of The New York Times:
The global rights went to the Europeans’ longtime partner, TEAM Marketing, which now controls the rights for a three-year cycle from 2024 to 2027, the first in an expanded Champions League that will include more matches.
The bigger surprise came in what they will not control: the lucrative rights to the United States. Those were won by Relevent Sports Group, the marketing company backed by the Miami Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross. Relevent prevailed after it said it could guarantee at least $250 million for the rights in the United States, about $100 million more than UEFA’s competitions currently deliver there.
Relevent and rivals like Endeavor-owned IMG, Octagon and Infront Sports & Media also bid for the global rights, which are estimated to be worth as much as $5 billion per season. TEAM, according to people familiar with the bidding process, was selected because it agreed to lower its commission on selling the rights and because it has a dedicated staff on hand to begin sales immediately.
Maybe the most notable part of this is that guarantee of $250 million annually. On the English-language side alone, Turner reportedly paid $60 million a year for three years from 2018-21 (and they actually opted out of that final year, leading to CBS taking over early), and Univision was reportedly paying around $40 million a year at that point. Panja’s piece says that the current total for English- and Spanish-language U.S. rights is around $150 million each year, so with a guarantee like this, Relevent is betting they can boost those totals by another $100 million annually. (Of course, there are some potential fringe benefits for them beyond just what they get from broadcasters; they also own and operate the summer International Champions Cup exhibitions that see European teams tour the U.S., and they’ve got quite a few other soccer irons in the fire. It’s possible that there’s value for them from this UEFA Champions League association that there wouldn’t be for TEAM Marketing or other bidders.)
As per if Relevent can actually bring in $100 million more (between English= and Spanish-language rights) each year, the expansion and “Swiss system” should both help with that. The “Swiss system” should produce more matchups between big clubs (at the cost of taking away some of the competition’s openness and underdog stories), which should lead to better ratings and make these rights more valuable. And these years also will come around a World Cup largely in the U.S., which will definitely lead to some increased soccer conversation.
Whether that conversation turns into a big rise in Champions League viewership remains to be seen, though, and it’s certainly not assured that Relevent can get this much more from broadcasters. It’s worth remembering that most of these matches are during the day in North America on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, not exactly peak viewership times, and that’s helped contribute to the limited past bids for these rights (and to Turner opting out of their deal early). So we’ll see how this rights purchase works out for them, and which broadcasters they strike a deal with and for how much.