On Tuesday, WarnerMedia announced an eight-year deal with the U.S. Soccer Federation for a package of U.S. men’s and women’s English-language national team rights beginning in 2023. These rights, the package previously held by ESPN and Fox, will cover FIFA World Cup home qualification matches, friendlies, and the SheBelieves Cup. Grant Wahl broke the news of this Monday night, with Paul Tenorio and Sam Stejskal of The Athletic adding more details, but many of the final details only came out in this release. Here’s more from that:
Turner Sports, a division of WarnerMedia, and the U.S. Soccer Federation have reached an eight-year multimedia rights agreement that will make TNT/TBS and HBO Max the exclusive English-language home to more than 20 Women’s and Men’s National Team matches each year. The new agreement, set to begin in 2023, will feature high-profile matches on TNT or TBS and a full slate of matches available through the HBO Max streaming platform. In addition, the strategic partnership will include digital and highlight rights for Bleacher Report and its portfolio brands, among additional content opportunities throughout the WarnerMedia portfolio.
HBO Max will live stream more than 20 United States National Soccer Team matches each year. TNT or TBS will televise approximately half of those matches – all simulcast on HBO Max – with the remaining matches being exclusive to the rapidly growing streaming platform.
“This is a significant milestone for Turner Sports and WarnerMedia, further demonstrating our commitment to the distribution of premium live sports content on HBO Max, while simultaneously fueling our leading entertainment networks, digital and social assets,” said Lenny Daniels, President, Turner Sports. “We’re excited to spotlight one of the most popular Women’s teams in the world, along with an ascending Men’s National Team, over the eight years of this agreement. This partnership offers us an opportunity to engage with their avid, young and diverse fan bases through all of our Turner Sports and Bleacher Report platforms.”
“We are thrilled to be partnering with Turner Sports at this amazing time for soccer in the United States,” said U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone. “During our discussions it was clear how dedicated they are to growing soccer in the United States, especially their commitment to expand the women’s game. As we build towards 2026 and beyond, we have found a fantastic partner to spotlight the stories of our Women’s and Men’s National Teams.”
As per John Ourand of Sports Business Journal, this deal will average $25-$27 million per year. Andrew Marchand of The New York Post has a similar figure (an estimated $200 million over eight years, or $25 million per year), and notes that both ESPN and Fox did not put in bids to retain these rights.
It’s worth noting what these rights do and don’t cover. They don’t cover actual men’s or women’s World Cup rights (rights owned by FIFA, held by Fox through 2026), the CONCACAF Gold Cup (rights owned by CONCACAF, held by Fox through 2023), or away qualification or friendly matches (rights owned by the home countries, held by CBS/Paramount for away CONCACAF matches during the 2022 qualification campaign). And the home matches ahead of the 2026 men’s World Cup may well be friendlies, not qualifiers; FIFA has not yet announced if all three host nations (the U.S., Canada, and Mexico) will receive the usual host exemption from qualifying. Still, there is a good amount of tonnage here, and even friendlies ahead of that home World Cup will carry a lot of interest.
Another notable element of this deal is the split between HBO Max and TNT/TBS. A significant streaming platform component makes sense, as that’s what many companies are doing with any new rights deal these days. It is interesting to see that happen with HBO Max, though, as while WarnerMedia has been putting a lot of sports content there, that’s largely been documentaries and series to this point rather than live games. This is maybe a move towards that service becoming a more significant place for live games, though.
And soccer is maybe a strong place to start building that. It’s often seen as having a younger and more tech-savvy audience, but not always with the raw numbers that make games work for conventional TV. That’s why we’ve seen so many streaming services emphasize soccer acquisitions lately, and that’s been unfortunate for fans who follow many different leagues on different services. (It is interesting to see WarnerMedia getting back into soccer only years after leaving their UEFA Champions League deal early, but that was in the B/R Live era, before HBO Max even launched. These are different rights, and the streaming landscape is much different now as well.)
But the particular split landed on here seems strong. It’s positive that every match will be streamed on HBO Max, meaning that fans without cable/satellite/virtual MVPD packages will be still be able to see the TNT and TBS games. But there’s also a good amount of linear TV presence here for bigger games, helping those who don’t have HBO Max. And there are further components to this involving Bleacher Report, including “including the potential to create interactive companion broadcasting experiences and/or newly developed matches or tournaments” and “behind-the-scenes content, such as the opportunity to produce docuseries and ancillary programming.” We’ll see how this deal works out, but it’s certainly a notable move for both WarnerMedia and for U.S. Soccer.