Turner Sports Wins Champions League Cable TV Rights

The Champions League is the cream of the crop of European football (soccer), with the top teams from each country’s top league competing to see who the best team in Europe is. Turner Sports has won the English-language cable TV rights for the Champions League from Fox, who was the previous rights holder for both English and Spanish language TV rights. Univision will hold the Spanish language TV rights.

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Turner will pay $60 million a year for three years, beginning in fall 2018 and stretching through spring 2021.

Turner was somewhat of a surprise bidder, given that it has not aired any soccer coverage since the 1990 World Cup. The network will have to build an entire soccer operation essentially from scratch and will likely be looking outside the company for the new faces of its soccer coverage.

According to SBD, Fox’s bid for these rights was nowhere near what Turner offered. Fox has held Champions League rights since 2009 and has focused much attention on soccer coverage, with rights to the World Cup and MLS.

NBC, which owns rights to the English Premier League, reportedly submitted only a “token bid” for the Champions League.

Turner is becoming a major player in sports television once again, and expanding its audience to the younger crowd drawn more to soccer than the traditional American sports audience. Turner also holds rights to the NBA, MLB Playoffs, and March Madness.

Keith Olbermann to Return to Cable TV

Keith Olbermann’s career on television has been a series of ups and downs. As co-anchor on the late-night SportsCenter with Dan Patrick, he helped to define what made that show, and ESPN itself, great in the early 1990s. After that, though, he’s bounced around from network to network, covering sports sometimes, but mostly just espousing political opinions that even many of his allies on the left side of the aisle can find to be a bit much.

Now, though, according to the Hollywood Reporter, he’s returning to cable television in a non-political capacity, to head up Turner Sports’ coverage of the Major League Baseball postseason.

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The deal will have Olbermann leading TBS’ Atlanta-based studio show with Dennis Eckersley and possibly a second analyst. TBS this season has both Wild Card Playoff games, 18 of the 20 League Division Series games and exclusive rights to the National League Championship Series. Sources say the deal has an option for the 2014 postseason as well.

“It’s well known that Keith is a fan of the game and when you combine that with his studio experience, keen insight and passion for baseball and its history, he’ll add a new dimension to our MLB postseason studio shows,” David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports at Turner Broadcasting, said in a statement. “We’re excited to have him join Dennis in studio, and look forward to Keith sharing his in-depth knowledge of the game, MLB teams and players with our viewers for three great weeks in October.”

Olbermann’s last job had him getting fired from the liberal-leaning Current TV, where he hosted a version of the show Countdown that he originated on MSNBC. Since this is a short gig, one can hope that he’ll find a way not to get fired.

NBA to Tackle Cable TV and Broadcast TV Rights Deals Ahead of Time

The NBA’s current cable TV and broadcast TV rights deals do not end until after the 2015-16 season, but as the playoffs are heating up and the sport’s television popularity is as high as it’s been since Jordan’s heyday, the Association is ready to get its next deals in place well ahead of time. Currently, the league gets about $930 million annually for television rights, a twenty percent increase over the league’s previous contracts. They’ll be looking for a much higher increase this time, when negotiations begin after the conclusion of the NBA playoffs.

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The league plans to wait for its playoffs to end in June before turning its focus to the media package, sources said. While those informal talks are likely to take place, a formal deal is not expected until next year, when current NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver replaces David Stern as commissioner.

The NBA would not comment on its coming discussions, but the league’s TV business was an agenda topic at the NBA’s April 19 board of governors meeting.

“There was a very lengthy report on TV matters,” Stern said in a briefing after the board meeting.

The league is looking to take advantage of a sports rights marketplace that has resulted in record rights fees over the past three years, with an increasing number of sports networks chasing a dwindling amount of live sports rights.

Typically, big sports properties start TV talks roughly a year before contracts come to an end. The NBA is deciding to test the waters now, with the cost of sports rights at an all-time high, timing Fox Sports co-President Randy Freer alluded to at last month’s World Congress of Sports conference.

“If I’m the NBA, I’m probably feeling pretty good,” Freer said. “But I’m probably also looking at maybe doing my deal now because I don’t know what’s going to happen in 2015 or 2016.”

Timing is key. There’s a sense in some circles that this record run of sports rights has created a bubble that could burst. But there are no signs any kind of downturn is imminent.

Last year, Major League Baseball signed $12.4 billion worth of media rights deals with ESPN, Fox and Turner for an eight-year span, more than doubling the average annual media rights revenue from its previous deal. A few months earlier, the NFL renewed its broadcast network rights deals at a 60 percent increase. These deals were struck amid a run of deals in the college market that brought record windfalls to the ACC, Pac-12 and BCS.

The NBA can similarly expect to get an increase in its deal.

More on this story as it develops from the TV, Internet and Phone Blog.