Business runs the world, and in sports, television drives that business. And while live television viewership has dropped across almost the entire spectrum with the emergence of such platforms as Hulu and Netflix, one area of viewership remains constant: sports.
It’s because of this fact that television contracts for sporting leagues and competitions continue to rise, reaching astronomical levels in some cases. The most lucrative numbers are in the globally followed sport of soccer, in which broadcasts for some of the big European leagues can reach households in countries across the world every weekend. The English Premier League, for example, has a television contract that brings in a combined $12 billion to its 20 clubs.
The United States saw a great growth of interest in the sport around the turn of the last decade, specifically in the 18-34-year-old demographic, in which soccer is one of the most popular sports. This trend has driven up prices for television contracts and caused networks who may have not paid attention to soccer viewers in the past to suddenly take note.
In step Turner Sports and Univision, the newest English and Spanish language television rights holders for the UEFA Champions League in America. The deal, which will begin in the 2018-19 season and total $180 million over three years, blindsided most fans who have not seen Turner Sports broadcast soccer in any capacity since the 1990 World Cup.
The Champions League had been broadcasted on Fox since the 2009-10 season, one massive part of Fox’s expansive soccer coverage. That coverage however, has often been criticized by fans who have not been enamored by the presentation, commentary and perceived commitment of Fox toward delivering the best product to its soccer audience.
Losing the Champions League will change the television landscape for soccer in a way that is difficult to determine in the present moment. Fox still owns the pinnacle of international soccer competition that is the World Cup for the 2018 and 2022 editions of the tournament.
Although, holding a competition like the Champions League, which takes place every year, may hold more weight than a competition that takes place once every four years, as great of a spectacle as the World Cup is.
NBC, which has been the most widely praised company for its coverage, and owns the television rights of the most popular league in the world through the 2021-22 season: The English Premier League, will likely feel much better about the soccer landscape now that Fox has lost out.
ESPN, who was informally in the bidding process, may feel differently as it has been drained of nearly all of its soccer attractions in recent years, and could have desperately used a portfolio building acquisition. The company which once housed the Men’s and Women’s World Cup, and the English Premier League, is now down to the Euros, a joint deal for Major League Soccer, and a joint deal for U.S. Men’s and Women’s national team qualifiers and friendlies.
Turner Sports enters this soccer equation out of nowhere and suddenly becomes a heavyweight. The company will add soccer’s most famous club competition to a lineup which already features select portions of the MLB Playoffs, NBA regular and postseason, NCAA Tournament and PGA Championship. In addition, Turner is the owner of Bleacher Report, perhaps the most extensive and recognizable sports website in the world outside of ESPN.
And so from Turner’s perspective the move looks like yet another step in the company’s steep ascension. Although the biggest and most important question that soccer fans want answered is what will the new kids on the block bring? Turner has created entertainment gold with its NBA coverage, but getting as well-received a soccer product will require a much different strategy. The unknown is understandably giving many people pause, but I personally am excited to see what Turner brings.
James Justice is a broadcast and visual media major from Caldwell, N.J. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MLSTakeover.