Commentary

Fox and ESPN lose EPL TV rights

By Paul Kennedy

The English Premier League, the most popular soccer league in terms of American television viewers, will have a new home on American television next season. Fox confirmed it lost out on the EPL rights it has held since 1998, and according to multiple reports the new home of the EPL will likely be NBC Universal.

The English Premier League recently requested bids from U.S. media companies for the three-year period from the 2013-14 season. The EPL has been the backbone of Fox Soccer's weekend coverage. Fox went so far as to show marquee matches on Fox Sports and promote the final day of the 2011-12 season as "Survival Sunday" with live coverage across its many networks, and ESPN has drawn excellent ratings (for the early-morning weekend time slot) for its sublicense of 80 matches each season.

The Sports Business Daily reported that NBC was the "clear front-runner" to gain the EPL rights with a bid of around $83 million per year, more than triple the $23 million per year that Fox has been paying.

Live sports programming is essential for an sports network, and the EPL would be a coup for NBC, whose NBC Sports Network has struggled since the bump it got from the recent London Olympics faded. The EPL would provide the NBC with live sports programming in the morning and early afternoon on the weekends. Its major sports properties are the NHL (currently on strike) and Sunday night NFL game of the week. It also in in its first year of covering MLS.

The loss of the EPL is a huge blow for Fox Soccer. Between the loss of the EPL (and MLS) to NBC and Italy's Serie A and France's Ligue 1 to the new beiN SPORT network, it will have no more league coverage. Fox was boosted with the award of the English-language rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup and other FIFA events, beginning with the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada, but it will soon be without its most popular soccer vehicle to promote those events. Fox is to launch a new broadcast sports network to rival ESPN into which it could fold its soccer properties if it is determined Fox Soccer was deemed to be no longer viable on its own.

"We were disappointed to learn today that English Premier League has elected to move forward with a different media partner despite Fox Sports Media Group's aggressive bid," Fox Sports said in a statement. "FOX Soccer has been the primary U.S. voice of EPL for almost two decades, and has done much over the years to increase its popularity, value and availability. We wish them well. Fox Soccer continues to serve as the primary television and digital destination in the U.S. for elite competitions including UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, FA Cup, Concacaf Champions League, Concacaf Gold Cup, and is the future home of FIFA World Cup and FIFA Women's World Cup beginning in 2015."

beIN SPORT was considered to be Fox's most serious competition -- alone or in partnership with NBC Universal -- for the EPL rights after snatching Serie A and Ligue 1 from Fox and Spain's La Liga from GolTV.

It is not known whether beIN SPORT bid on the EPL or was working in partnership with NBC Universal. Since it is currently unavailable in much of the country, it was believed that the EPL would be reluctant to go with a bidder that could not extend its brand on a national network like Fox or NBC can.

USA-GUATEMALA RATINGS. The USA-Guatemala World Cup qualifier on ESPN2 averaged 730,000 viewers, down from the 902,000 viewers for the USA-Jamaica game in September and 899,000 viewers for the opening U.S. home qualifier against Antigua & Barbuda in June.

It should be noted that the Tuesday night was a big night for television programming with the second presidential debate (65.6 million viewers) and Detroit-New York ACLS game, which drew 6.2 million viewers. The Mexico-El Salvador qualifier drew 3.6 million viewers on Univision.
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