Turner Broadcasting was a surprise winner earlier this year in the bidding for rights to the UEFA Champions League, Europe’s top club soccer competition. But what the company plans do with the rights may be even more surprising: Launch a stand-alone sports streaming service next year that will broadcast the vast majority of the games, The New York Times reports.
It was reported in February that Turner had won the U.S. English-language rights to the Champions League and the second-tier Europa League beginning with the 2018-19 season, but the acquisition — and Turner’s plans for it — will be announced formally on Thursday, August 17.
Many of the most important Champions League games, including the semifinals and final, will still be broadcast on cable television. But starting next summer, more than 80 percent of the matches will only be available to fans who pay for the new subscription service — the latest move by a media organization to monetize unused parts of a multimillion-dollar sports rights deal.
Turner, which owns cable networks including TNT, TBS, CNN and Cartoon Network, and already owns some rights for games in Major League Baseball, the N.B.A. and the men’s N.C.A.A. basketball tournament, will build its new product around soccer, at least to start.
Turner acquired the rights to both the Champions League and the Europa League for three years, beginning with the 2018–19 season, in bidding earlier this year conducted by European soccer’s governing body, UEFA. Sports Business Journal reported that Turner had paid $60 million for the rights, a significant increase over the fee paid by the current rights holder, Fox Sports.
Once the contract begins, less than 20 percent of the hundreds of games in the two tournaments will be broadcast on Turner’s linear television channels; the rest will form the backbone of the new streaming service.
It is the latest so-called over-the-top streaming service for a sports-hungry American market: ESPN announced last week that it would launch a similar Netflix-style service for the thousands of extra games for which it owns the rights, and NBC Sports is testing the soccer market’s appetite with a similar service showing games in England’s Premier League.
“We went into this specifically thinking about an O.T.T. product,” David Levy, the president of Turner, said Wednesday about the company’s decision to pursue the soccer rights. “There was just kind of an overall company strategy to innovate beyond the traditional television ecosystem.”
In the past 16 months, Turner already has launched a movie streaming service, FilmStruck, based around the Criterion Collection, and a cartoon streaming service, Boomerang.
Of the 340 annual Champions League and Europa League matches that Turner acquired — games that have become a midweek afternoon staple for American fans — only about 60 will appear on television, mostly on truTV. The semifinals and finals of the Champions League will air on either TNT or TBS, as will the Europa League final.