HBO Max TNT, TBS Get Games in Turner Sports’ $200M, 8-Year Deal

0

The US Football Association’s next English-language TV rights deal has been won by WarnerMedia’s Turner Sports, the two companies announced Tuesday, with an eight-year deal that multiple sources say is worth around $25 million a year. But for the first time in the governing body’s history, it’s not a TV-first deal.

HBO Max, WarnerMedia’s streaming service, will be the primary home for the US men’s and women’s national teams’ home games, with over 20 such games expected to take place between programs each year. Cable channels TNT and TBS will broadcast around half of the games, meaning many games will only be streamed when it comes to English coverage.

Of course, being international football, defining ‘home games’ is not easy. US Soccer officially holds the rights to the men’s and women’s national team friendlies, the men’s national team home World Cup qualifiers and the US Open Cup for men’s club teams nationwide. That’s what this deal is all about.

Some of the friendlies are significant, such as the World Cup and Olympics farewells, the US men’s team hosts against rivals Mexico, and the US women’s team’s SheBelieves Cup. But the big games US teams play in Concacaf and FIFA tournaments are negotiated separately, even if those games take place on US soil.

New mini-tournaments may be created here in which Turner would play a role. The company will also create a lot of digital content through its popular online platform, Bleacher Report, including behind-the-scenes documentaries.

» READ MORE: US women’s soccer stars win $24 million settlement in equal pay lawsuit

The $25 million per year rights fee is a win for US Soccer as it equals the combined amount earned from current English and Spanish rights deals with ESPN, Fox and Univision. A new Spanish-language rights contract is still pending.

The eight-year term of this deal is also big news, as it means US soccer won’t be able to launch its rights immediately after hosting the 2026 Men’s World Cup. The 2028 Olympics will also come and go, as will the 2027 Women’s World Cup.

The final year of the deal will be 2030, a year of the men’s World Cup, followed by a women’s World Cup in 2031. US Soccer is working on a bid to host that tournament but could opt for 2027 instead. (None of the bidding processes have started yet.)

For Turner, the stability of a long-term business makes a lot of sense. Turner Sports President Lenny Daniels told The Inquirer: “We’re not doing anything that has a short-term perspective. … I think that fits perfectly with our ability to grow the sport.”

But is it right for US soccer? US Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone has said so.

“WarnerMedia will give US Soccer the ability to reach massive audiences and connect with new fans across all their properties, both linear and digital,” she said. “Maybe we could have made a little leap after 26, but it’s about the broader vision and telling the story of US football, of course within our national teams, but also outside of our senior teams – with our youth, Para, Beach, futsal, crossing into culture and lifestyle. So we felt that WarnerMedia was the perfect partner for us and we wanted a long-term deal to build on that relationship and help us grow the game in every aspect.”

This was the first time US Soccer had self-marketed its broadcasting rights in over 20 years. From 2002 until last year, Major League Soccer’s marketing division, Soccer United Marketing, managed the rights. The 2022 deal came at a time when no English-language US television network was buying the rights to that year’s men’s World Cup. The US men reached the quarter-finals that year, which sparked increased interest – and helped MLS with their rights deals.

» READ MORE: US Soccer joins growing boycott against playing Russian teams

Last May, US Soccer announced it was taking its media rights back indoors and negotiating them itself. This was done partly for its own sake and partly to demonstrate the increased value of US women’s team games. Daniels gave a strong endorsement to the appeal of the women’s team.

“You could say it’s the best women’s team in the sport, right?” said Daniels. “We look at the men’s team on the rise and the women’s team and we look at them together and we’re trying to make all of football more fan base, more engaged and more people involved in how they enjoy the game of football. ”

Now the governing body will end a decade-long partnership with ESPN, which through its cable channels and ties to ABC has been the main channel for national teams’ home games since the 1980s. Fox has also had a national team home rights package since 2015. Multiple sources confirmed to The Inquirer that ESPN and Fox didn’t bid on the deal.

Fox will continue to air some US games for all of its global tournaments through 2026 thanks to rights deals with Concacaf for the Men’s Gold Cup and FIFA. The last big chunk of Fox’s current FIFA deal is the 2026 Men’s World Cup, which will obviously be a financial bonanza.

CBS also has a package of Concacaf rights that includes the men’s Nations League and the women’s W Championship tournaments. The next edition of the latter event will take place this July and is set to serve as a qualifying event for both next year’s World Cup and the 2024 Olympics.

» READ MORE: Comcast is heavily involved in campaign to bring 2026 World Cup games to Philadelphia

Does it matter that no games of the new US soccer deal will be broadcast on free-to-air television in English? Kegel doesn’t think so.

“We have a very young audience and a very mixed audience and a very tech-savvy audience, so I’m not worried about them being able to find HBO Max,” Cone said.

And does it matter that men’s World Cup qualifiers won’t play as much of a role in the 2030 cycle as the expansion of the tournament to 48 teams from 2026 will make qualifying much easier? Daniels took that.

“We really don’t know what it’s going to be,” he said, “but I think knowing it’s there and knowing that at some point we can appreciate it.”

TNT and TBS are well known to sports fans for their coverage of the NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball and a portion of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Turner’s hockey games will be available to air on HBO Max at some point in the future, although the network hasn’t decided exactly when.

HBO Max currently costs $9.99 per month, or $14.99 without ads. Annual plans are $99.99 and $149.99, respectively. But all cable and satellite TV (or equivalents like YouTube TV and SlingTV) subscribers who get the HBO TV channel get access at no additional cost. Last month, the company announced that its TV and streaming platforms combined reached 73.1 million subscribers.

Turner’s past love affairs with football began with the 1990 men’s World Cup. Officially, the new deal’s first US men’s game on TNT will be the team’s first appearance on the channel since June 19, 1990 – a 2-1 loss to Austria in the group stage finals of the first men’s team World Cup in 40 years.

In 2001, TNT was one of the few national television homes for the inaugural year of the Women’s United Soccer Association, whose teams included the Philadelphia Charge.

» READ MORE: Recap of the Philadelphia Charge’s first season

In 2018, Turner started a three-season deal for the men’s UEFA Champions League and Europa League. The coverage didn’t sit well with many fans, and Turner canceled the deal in June 2020 because of the pandemic.

Some of that criticism surfaced again when news of Turner’s US soccer deal broke. Daniels said the network learned lessons from this.

“The kind of fan, the passions that drive a football fan, what really moves the needle, I think we learned a lot about that,” he said. “We have a lot more opportunities for different types of productions here than in the Champions League. Not to say that was right or wrong or good or worse or better, I just think it gives us an opportunity to have a different perspective on it.”

Turner has also changed as a company since then. There’s new leadership and, more importantly, a forthcoming merger with Discovery that could give the new company even more cravings for sports rights – including football. The merger was cleared by antitrust authorities earlier this month and is expected to close in the spring.

Could US games also be streamed on Discovery+ in due course? Daniel’s belated comment, understandably given the deal isn’t official yet. But he said this deal offers flexibility to expand streaming availability if the opportunity arises.

It’s also an open secret in American football circles that Turner is interested in part of MLS’ next rights deal, which will also begin next year. So it made sense to ask Daniels about it, and he answered.

“Obviously there’s MLS, there’s others,” he said, “and I’m sure every other company is talking and learning more about it, so are we.”

Share.

Comments are closed.