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CBS acquired additional Uefa Champions League rights in discount deal

CBS Sports secured its additional English-language rights to the Uefa Champions League in the United States at a discounted rate, SportBusiness understands.

After Turner Sports decided to opt out of its rights agreement with Uefa, which had been due to expire at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season, the European governing body approached CBS about a potential deal to try to ensure that the Champions League would gain meaningful coverage in the valuable US market.

CBS seized on the opportunity and secured the rights for the remainder of the 2019-20 season and entire 2020-21 campaign. While terms of the deal were not disclosed, SportBusiness has learned from sources it is less than what Turner had been paying, which is believed to be $60m a year.

SportBusiness understands that Uefa did not approach any other US broadcasters about a deal due to a desire to lengthen the agreement with its future long-term partner and to also secure a quick agreement.

In a somewhat similar move, NBC Sports recently picked up United States Golf Association domestic media rights, including the US Open, after Fox Sports secured an early exit of its 12-year rights deal through 2026 in large part due to a pandemic-fueled schedule conflict between the golf major and the National Football League season. That deal will see NBC Sports paying slightly than half of the original USGA rights fee, with Fox Sports picking up the remainder.

Last November, in a surprise development, CBS secured rights to the Champions League from the 2021-22 season through 2023-24. The additional rights mean that CBS will have rights to the Champions League for more than four seasons.

The latter stages of the Champions League are being held in Lisbon this year in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

“We’re excited. The opportunity presented itself [and] it was a great opportunity for us to embark on a relationship that we’re excited about early,” Jeff Gerttula, CBS Sports Digital executive vice president and general manager, tells SportBusiness.

“I think this conclusion of the 2019-20 season with the tournament format in August is a unique opportunity, a perfect fit for our service and maybe it’s going to be a really big deal. Being able to start earlier is really exciting. We were thrilled when we won the rights for the original three-year deal but the opportunity to extend that to four-plus seasons is unique and lets us get a jump-start on our plans to bring the Champions League to our audience,” Gerttula said.

CBS’s tournament coverage began on July 10, with the live draw for the latter stages of the Champions League and Europa League on digital platforms CBS All Access and CBS Sports HQ.

All Champions League and Europa League matches of the 2019-20 tournaments will be streamed live on CBS All Access. In addition, cable network CBS Sports Network will broadcast Manchester City v Real Madrid on August 7 and FC Barcelona v Napoli on August 8, as well as the Champions League final on August 23.

Each of the three CBS Sports Network matches will begin with a 90-minute pregame show. CBS has actively been looking to bring in new studio talent by August, while world feed commentaries of matches provided by Uefa will be used initially.

Notably, CBS All Access is offering a one-month free trial promotion for new subscribers through mid-August, giving fans the ability to watch every match in the Champions League and Europa League August tournaments for free during their trial.

The UK-based IMG Studios has been in talks to handle production of CBS’s European soccer coverage.

“We have two challenges,” Gerttula said. “There is a high volume of games so the operational work and product work in order to be able to deliver 300 games to soccer fans in of itself is a challenge. A lot of the work we’ve done around our streaming has set us up to do this.

“Secondly, we know the soccer audience sets high standards and has big expectations – and this tournament has the highest expectations of them all. We’ve been working hard on how we’re going to handle the studio shows and other surrounding content. We know that’s a priority for us, that we have to deliver something of a standard of quality that’s going to meet the expectations of an audience that demands a lot. We’re confident that we’re going to be able to do that – now we’re going to have to do it faster,” he said.

Earlier this month, Gerttula told SportBusiness that CBS was “thrilled” with the National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup, a quarantined tournament being held this summer in Utah.