The value of soccer in America is getting its next big test.
The Union of European Football Associations will began soliciting bids for the US TV rights to its Champions League matches this week and offers are expected to top $2 billion for a six-year deal, more than double what UEFA gets every year under current agreements, according to people familiar with the organization’s thinking.
The group is expected to post a document on its website Monday inviting companies to submit offers for the annual tournament, which features Europe’s top soccer teams. The deadline for bidding is Aug. 15.
UEFA has had preliminary discussions in recent weeks with Comcast Corp.’s NBC, Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN, Paramount Global’s CBS, Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., Fox Corp., Warner Bros. Discovery Inc., Univision and DAZN, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.
Paramount and Univision hold the US rights to the Champions League currently. The two pay about $145 million per year combined, with Paramount paying more. Viewership has been strong. The UEFA Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Liverpool, two of the most popular teams, attracted 2.8 million viewers on CBS in May. That was the largest audience for a final in the US on English-language television. It also was the largest streaming audience for a soccer match on Paramount+.
UEFA has made several changes to make its rights more compelling to media companies. It’s increasing the number of teams to 36 from 32 starting in 2024. For the first time, media companies can bid on rights for as long as six years, from 2024 to 2030, giving broadcasters more time to ramp up their marketing and production capabilities. It’s also added matches in January, which could help streaming services that might otherwise see subscribers cancel when the league takes a break that month. A new format means fewer matches overlap and popular teams play more often. And in a nod to the rising popularity of streaming, the league is relaxing a requirement that a minimum number of matches appear on traditional TV.
Soccer has become the go-to sports property of the streaming era because of its young, digital-savvy global fan base. Several media companies, including Paramount, ESPN and NBC, have used the sport to boost their online offerings. It has also been attractive to tech giants that are newcomers to sports broadcasting. Last month, Apple Inc. secured the long-term rights to stream Major League Soccer, while Amazon.com Inc. won the rights to broadcast the Champions League in the UK for the first time.
Ideal time to sell
UEFA is betting that now is the ideal time to sell soccer rights in America, with the prices soaring. In November, Comcast Corp.’s NBC agreed to pay more than $2.5 billion over six years to renew the US rights to broadcast English Premier League matches. That was almost three times the previous deal. Apple is paying a minimum guarantee of $250 million per year for Major League Soccer rights, nearly triple the value under the previous agreement, according to Sports Business Journal. Also, in 2026, the US will host the World Cup, which could generate more excitement for soccer among American audiences.
The bidding process is being run by Relevent Sports Group, co-founded by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross. In February, Relevent won the rights to broker UEFA’s US media deals, beating out other agencies like Octagon and Endeavor’s IMG by promising to sell the rights for at least $250 million a year. Relevent has experience brokering soccer deals in the US. Last year, it sold the rights to La Liga, Spain’s top soccer league, to ESPN for $1.4 billion over eight years.