ESPN+ adds Copa del Rey to extensive soccer portfolio in multi-year deal

ESPN+, ESPN’s direct-to-consumer streaming service, has gained the exclusive US media rights to Spanish soccer cup competition the Copa del Rey as part of a new multi-year agreement with the Royal Spanish Football Federation.

ESPN+ will feature up to 65 matches per season, including the Copa del Rey final. Many games will be available to fans with both English- and Spanish-language commentary options. Coverage begins with the tournament’s second round this weekend.

Previous US rights-holder beIN Sports, the pay-television broadcaster, decided not to renew the rights, allowing ESPN to step in, according to World Soccer Talk.

The Spanish cup competitions join approximately 2,000 annual soccer matches on ESPN+, including the English FA Cup, Carabao Cup and English Football League, Italian Serie A, Germany’s Bundesliga (beginning in the 2020-21 season), Dutch Eredivise, Major League Soccer out-of-market games and Uefa Nations League.

ESPN+, which debuted in April 2018, has around 3.5 million paid subscribers, Disney chief executive Bob Iger revealed in November. This is up from announced figures of 1 million subscribers in September 2018, 2 million in February 2019, and 2.4 million in August 2019.

Last May, ESPN said it was “stacking up global soccer as much we can” for the service.

Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive vice-president of programming and scheduling, said: “We’re looking at all territories. We probably could do more in Latin America, South America, Central America, Mexico. That’s the next place we’re going to look…

“For an overall soccer fan, just having this buffet of great leagues and tournaments around the world is part of our design of making ESPN+ an indispensable proposition for a fan in that category. But in you need to have a critical mass [of rights] in order to have that dynamic.”

Spain’s domestic league competition LaLiga is broadcast by beIN Sports in the US and Canada. An extension to the existing contract was in August extended through to the end of the 2023-24 season.

The Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) announced in November that it had raised a total of nearly €80m ($89m) – or €26.7m per season – from the sale of domestic and ‘selected’ international rights to the Copa del Rey over the next three seasons.

The RFEF previously only marketed rights to the final as LaLiga sold the bulk of the competition. The 2019-22 cycle marks the first time that the RFEF has sold the rights as a whole package.

In September, the RFEF issued invitations to tender in the European Union and the rest of the world. The domestic association was advised on the international rights sales process by the Sportradar agency.