ESPN, the international sports media giant, was involved in bidding for rights in the US to English soccer’s top-tier Premier League between 2022-23 and 2027-28, its programming president has confirmed.
Speaking at an event in New York earlier this week, Burke Magnus, the network’s president of programming and original content, said: “We ran our process, and did it with discipline … We hope we understand what they were looking for as part of the process, and we’re excited to see where it goes.”
An announcement on the destination of the exclusive US rights for the next five seasons of the Premier League is expected later this week (by 12 November), with bids having been due by Monday.
NBC Sports, a division of the US national network, currently holds rights in a deal expiring at the end of the ongoing 2021-22 campaign and is paying $1 billion in total over the six years between 2016 and 2022.
NBC has held exclusive Premier League rights exclusively since 2013. Before that, ESPN covered the action alongside Fox Sports.
The 20 Premier League clubs will most likely be presented with a recommendation for a US TV partner tomorrow (11 November), by the league's chief executive Richard Masters, before a formal announcement is made.
Competition for NBC, which is expected to strongly attempt to retain one of its most lucrative soccer assets, is expected to come both from ESPN and fellow national network CBS.
Late last week, it was reported that the league was confident it could strike a deal for the rights worth $1.47 billion, a rise in the rights’ value of almost 50 per cent.
The current rights come out as around $166 million per season, while a deal worth $1.47 billion would work out as $245 million per annum.
Magnus added: “Soccer has been really a tentpole for ESPN+ [the broadcaster’s dedicated streaming service] from the very first day. That and UFC have been the two categories that we have sunk our teeth into from the beginning.”
Last month, ESPN's chief executive Jimmy Pitaro, speaking after his network entered into a new eight-year deal to cover Spanish soccer’s LaLiga, said: “We are interested in more soccer content and we are looking at it right now.”
The Premier League is reported to be eyeing a fee substantially higher than the $175 million-per-year which ESPN is paying LaLiga action, however, with that competition seen as less of a draw for US viewers than its English counterpart.
The 20 clubs initially met in September to discuss the US media rights situation and decided then to seek bids through an open tender instead of renewing with NBC and Comcast pre-emptively.
In general, the US is one of the Premier League’s most significant international markets, with clubs regularly playing pre-season games stateside to increase their popularity and audience share.
The success of this tender in terms of securing higher rights fees for the Premier League is critical. With the value of domestic rights having plateaued over recent cycles, key international markets such as the US and China are more important than ever in continuing to drive the league’s growth and in raising the overall media rights value.