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Analyzing the rumored ESPN-Bundesliga Deal

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BFW explores how ESPN’s new Bundesliga deal impacts the networks, the fans, and the future of TV contract negotiations.

FBL-GER-BUNDESLIGA-WOLFSBURG-DORTMUND Photo credit should read ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images

News broke on Wednesday that will make a big impact on the wallets of U.S.-based Bayern Munich fans.

If you hadn’t read our article, a report from the New York Post says ESPN is set to take the broadcasting rights for the Bundesliga. The deal will see the Worldwide Leader in Sports take the reins from the previous rights holder, Fox Sports.

According to the Post (owned by News Corp, a sister company of Fox Corp), the deal is yet to be finalized and no financial information has been leaked. However, their sources say the deal is likely to put most of the games on the streaming service ESPN+. There is a potential for games to be played on “linear” television, such as ESPN, ESPN2, etc.

For some fans, this will be joyful news. For others, this will be an inconvenience. But, as much as it impacts the fans and the networks, these negotiations may set a benchmark for future deals done by other leagues.

Let's take a look at all three groups affected by this below: the networks themselves, leagues looking to take on other deals, and the fans.


The Networks

There is a clear winner in this scenario, but it’s unclear whether there is a loser as well.

To start, it’s important to note the discrepancy in the media rights for football in each company. Here are the current properties of each company (excluding beach soccer and futsal):

ESPN

ESPN’s US Broadcasting Rights for Soccer
Jake Fenner

It’s important to note, that of the 40 competitions listed above, 22 of them are exclusively on ESPN+ (55%).

Now, let’s look at the other half of this equation:

Fox Sports

Yep, that’s it. It should also be noted that this was the first year since 2009 that FOX did not have the rights to cover the UEFA Champions League, a big blow for them.

Clearly, this move benefits ESPN. Instead of adding a new channel on television to broadcast only soccer, they have decided to move toward becoming the US’s one-stop-shop for all soccer leagues. The only downside is that a lack of soccer on television will stunt the growth of the game domestically. Obviously, ESPN is tied up in other projects. Imagine if ESPN broadcast Juventus/Inter or Lazio/Roma instead of ANY college football game on a fall Saturday? The U.S. audience would be livid.

And funny enough, while it benefits ESPN, it doesn’t really hurt Fox either. Over the past few years, Fox has clearly shown an initiative to distance themselves from international competitions. Since 2014, they picked up rights for the US national teams and MLS, while shedding the Scottish Premiership, the Aussie Leagues, the Copa Libertadores, and the Copa America.

While they did enjoy the ratings from the Bundesliga, it wasn’t their bread and butter and they decreased their coverage of it slowly over time. By cutting the BuLi, Fox returns to focus on its core competency in broadcasting American soccer full-time.


Other Leagues

There are two major competitions with deals set to expire in the coming years.

The most immediate is La Liga, whose contract with beIN Sports expires after the 2019-20 season. The Qatari based company has had an American presence since 2012, but made little impact in the sports landscape.

For one, they have a decent soccer portfolio, with U.S. rights for the Copa Libertadores, the Africa Cup of Nations, and France’s Ligue 1 pairing well with La Liga. But, they don’t have many sports outside of soccer, only covering Gaelic sports, tennis, some Motorsports, and college sports from the Conference USA.

In addition, beIN hasn’t been available to most television providers. In August of last year, they were dropped from DirecTV, AT&T U-verse, Verizon Fios, and Xfinity. So, naturally, La Liga will most likely be looking for a new partner.


This new Bundesliga deal potentially signals two things: either a) Fox is angling to buy La Liga OR b) ESPN is trying to boost their subscription numbers to get an advantage.

If it’s the former, I think it’s a bad move. While Spain has big teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, and Valencia, there are very few teams beyond them that can easily be recognized to the casual soccer fan. Not to mention, any company buying La Liga would have to spend a lot of resources on an education campaign to inform the audience. Also, there’s no U.S.-Liga connection anymore. The last big name USMNT player in Spain was Jozy Altidore when he went to Villareal. Meanwhile, there are countless Americans playing in the Bundesliga (or just left in the case of Christian Pulisic) that fans could recognize from John Brooks to Weston McKennie to Josh Sargent.

If ESPN is trying to boost numbers, then it plays very well. By adding the German league, they will be sure to get more eyes on ESPN+ and show the Spaniards they mean business. The large number of leagues may be enough to convince La Liga to get on the ESPN+ hype train.

The other competition with a TV deal expiring is the UEFA Champions League & Europa League. Their contract with Turner/Bleacher Report ends in 2021, and given the backlash to the lack of programming, it’s a coin flip on whether or not UEFA goes back to them. I won’t speculate, but it will be interesting to see how this plays out.


The Fans

The way I see it for Bayern Munich fans, this move all depends on two things: a) How big of a soccer fan you are and b) How big of a Bayern fan you are.

For those that love the sport of soccer, now you have more of a reason to get the service. In adding one of the most popular leagues to the American audience, ESPN+ gets a big boost and gives football fans more incentive to give it a try. Plus, with the other major leagues on there, fans have more options than before. Is it a borderline soccer monopoly? Yes, but it’s convenient to have most of the popular leagues in one place.

If you are just a casual Bayern fan, then $60 per year may not be worth it to you. But remember, /r/soccerstreams doesn’t exist anymore so your options are limited. If you’ve been a fan for a while, this may bring back memories of the GOL TV days. Not only was it expensive, but it was inconvenient as well. This time, ESPN+ is relatively easier to work with and more accessible, so you’re really getting your money’s worth.


So, let me know what you think:

Poll

Is ESPN acquiring the Bundesliga a good idea?

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    No, not at all
    (119 votes)
  • 41%
    Yes, It’s a great idea and I’m getting ESPN+
    (112 votes)
  • 14%
    Yes, it’s great but I won’t get ESPN+
    (40 votes)
271 votes total Vote Now

For the sake of journalistic integrity, Jake Fenner is currently an intern at Fox Corporation. He is not in any way affiliated with Fox Sports, Fox Soccer or their coverage of the Bundesliga. He has not been privy to any private information before writing this article.