Comcast Faces $2 Billion U.S. Battle for Premier League Rights
(Bloomberg) -- Having secured the rights to the Olympics and the National Football League well into the next decade, Comcast Corp. is now turning its attention to another major sports franchise: the English Premier League.
Comcast’s current deal with soccer’s EPL expires at the end of the 2021-2022 season, and the bidding for the next contract is about to begin. The league’s clubs will meet next week, with media rights in the U.S. on the agenda, and are expected to seek bids instead of preemptively renewing with Comcast, according to a person familiar with their plans.
Though the EPL is pleased with the coverage by Comcast’s NBC, which has been praised by soccer fans, the league sees an opportunity to double or triple the value of the rights deal by testing the market.
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 EPL declined to comment, saying the process is confidential.
“We certainly want to continue our great relationship with the Premier League,” NBC Sports said in a statement. “Now in our ninth season, we have worked together to drive major growth for the sport in the U.S with innovative production and unmatched promotion.”
Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN recently agreed to pay $175 million a year for rights to Spain’s LaLiga, a less-popular league. EPL owners will be motivated to vault past that figure in a new deal. The league is showing renewed strength, with international superstar Cristiano Ronaldo back at Manchester United after stints in Spain and Italy, and England dominating Europe’s Champions League with a final this year between Chelsea and Manchester City.
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.
Amazon.com Inc. could also bid, having already secured the rights to the EPL in some European territories. The British TV rights to the EPL are held by Comcast’s Sky, Amazon and BT Group Plc.
ESPN and Amazon declined to comment. WarnerMedia’s Turner division and ViacomCBS didn’t immediately respond to inquiries.
Philadelphia-based Comcast would like to hold on to the U.S. rights, which it has held since 2013, according to the person. The EPL is the world’s most popular domestic soccer league, and has been one of the biggest drivers of new customers for Peacock, Comcast’s streaming service. It’s also a big draw on broadcast TV. Eight different matches drew more than 1 million viewers across the NBC broadcast network, Telemundo and other networks.
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.
The EPL rights would give the media companies different games to spread across their properties. Comcast has aired matches on NBC, Telemundo, the NBC Sports Network and Peacock. Now that the company plans to fold NBC Sports Network, it plans to offer more sports on USA.
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.
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