Beginning next summer, Fox Sports will begin airing the German Bundesliga in the United States, having won the rights away from GolTV in the most recent bidding process. The deal is for five years and will see the Bundesliga remain on a major channel in America through the year 2020.
This is a massive deal for not only the league but Bayern Munich. The club has put "making it in America" toward the top of their corporate plans. We've talked about the new office in New York City, the appointment of Franz Beckenbauer as the club's brand ambassador, Bayern's friendlies against Chivas de Guadalajara and MLS All Stars, and the recent partnership with a major US youth club.
I spoke with Jonathan Tannenwald (@thegoalkeeper) from Philly.com about the deal and what it means for both Fox Sports and the Bundesliga. Jonathan has been on top of a lot of the television-related soccer news in the United States.
I think it's important for Fox in part because they lost the Premier League, and also because the Bundesliga's deal with Fox covers not just the United States but many countries where 21st Century Fox has TV networks - spanning north and Central America, Asia and parts of Europe. The U.S., Japan and Brazil are among the big countries in the deal.
From the Bundesliga's perspective, you see the growth of soccer in America (and the German influence on the U.S. national team) and you see a definite potential to make money. Bayern Munich hit on a piece of it this summer at the MLS All-Star Game, and both they and Dortmund have made inroads in some ways through their Champions League success - especially the year they played each other in the final.
The Bundesliga isn't the only soccer league that will joining Fox Sports in 2015. Fox has entered into a long-term agreement with MLS through 2022. This is in addition to their Champions League contract which they extended through the 2017-2018 season earlier this year.
However, there's almost always bigger fish out there. In the summer of 2016, the United States television rights to the English Premier League will be up for grabs. During the the last round of negotiations, NBC spent $250 million on a three year deal in an attempt to make a big splash in the soccer market. Now, it's believed by many experts that the next EPL deal could be worth around $200 million each season. Those same experts also believe that Fox will combine efforts with ESPN in order to get the EPL rights back from NBC.
If there's any league that takes their television product seriously, it's the EPL. This deal will include a new wrinkle - a game on Friday night. This would be in direct conflict with the Bundesliga's Friday night games. The two leagues would also have scheduling conflicts on regular Saturday and Sunday matchdays. Of course, with the EPL being of a much higher profile here in the States, that would see the Bundesliga relegated to the channels owned by Fox that not many people have access to.
Jonathan, however, thinks the two networks would figure out a way to make the deal work.
If ESPN and Fox get the EPL back, I think they'll still find ways to make it work. Yes, some Bundesliga games might end up on Fox Sports 2 or Fox Soccer Plus that would have been on Fox Sports 1, but whatever bid package gets put together will be done knowing the Bundesliga windows are already accounted for. So in particular with the Friday EPL games, I'd bet they end up on an ESPN network while Fox Sports 1 shows the Bundesliga.
Also, the wild card factor in this is Fox's ability to get Fox Sports 2 more distribution. If they start putting NASCAR programming on there I bet it will happen.
Yes, it does make a lot of sense that a product that Fox would be paying a lot of money for wouldn't be relegated from our television sets to obscurity. However, none of this matters if Fox/ESPN don't get the rights. Who does Jonathan think wins the bidding war?
In the end, I think NBC will keep the EPL rights, but I think they'll have to work hard for it. They have the money to out-bid ESPN/Fox and they know they are going to have to put it on the table. I don't know whether the EPL has a requirement to take the highest bid, but we know how it wants to get as much money as it can.
If the EPL cares about distribution as it relates to revenue potential, they'll definitely stay with NBC. Not just because of the way online streaming has been handled - ESPN can match that and Fox could if it wanted to - but because the overflow games are on linear TV channels. A big part of the growth of the EPL has been the bar culture, and that has gotten a huge boost by bar owners being able to take the TV feeds instead of jittery online streams.
So we'll see. But I wouldn't be too worried.
So, Jonathan doesn't believe that we should be concerned about the possibility of Fox getting the EPL rights back. We'll have at least one season of Bundesliga on Fox unmolested by the behemoth that is the EPL. For now, that's good enough for me.