Soccer May Not Give CBS, Peacock the Kick They Hoped For

Soccer graphic

Video streamers have recently been banking on soccer rights to help them stand out.  

CBS All Access/CBS Sports will now stream UEFA Champions League/Europa League matches from August to 2024, the company announced Wednesday. Previously, Turner had UEFA broadcasting rights until 2021. 

A day later, it was reported that NBCU’s Peacock will be the exclusive home for over 175 English Premier League (EPL) games for the 2020-21 season, the schedule of which has not yet been announced. The games will air on Peacock Premium.   

These are smart moves for ViacomCBS and NBCU, given most of their prominent streaming competition (Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max) doesn’t offer live content, let alone live sports. And soccer specifically could be seen as a wise target, given the expanding reach of the sport professionally within the U.S. 

But be careful in diagnosing the boost that either of these rights packages will provide. Morning Consult found in an August 2019 poll that 83% of U.S. adults didn’t follow any of the five major European soccer leagues (like EPL, La Liga, and Serie A). Additionally, just 6% described themselves as an avid fan of soccer, which is the group you would expect most to be willing to pay specifically for access to Peacocks’ EPL games, or pro soccer games in general. 

To be fair, 28% in that same survey said they were casual soccer fans, and some of them might be willing to pay to access the EPL games on Peacock Premium. 

Additionally, those who get Peacock Premium for free à la Comcast pay-TV subscription have little stopping them from checking out the 2020-21 EPL games. 

But the excitement for some coming from gaining free access to Peacock-EPL games might be dampened by the fact that they already had access to UEFA National Team football via ESPN on pay TV.

Meanwhile, just 2% of surveyed U.S. adults said they were subscribed to Turner-owned B/R Live (which charged for access to things like live UEFA matches) in June, per separate survey data YouGov provided exclusively to VIP. This figure is one indicator that there may not yet be widespread willingness to pay for streaming access to UEFA games in the U.S. 

All of this isn’t to say that ViacomCBS and NBCU shouldn’t have locked down their soccer rights packages. Rather, it’s saying that the packages won’t be silver bullets for their streamers. 

And that is reflected in the domestic value of pro soccer rights, which is peanuts relative to the rights of the major U.S. sports leagues like the NFL. NBC is no stranger to broadcasting EPL, and long ago in 2015 struck a six year deal for the rights to over 2,200 EPL matches, in a deal worth $1 billion ($167 million per year). Meanwhile, the CBS-UEFA pact was reported to be worth $150 million per year in November 2019, when CBS was set to start broadcasting UEFA in 2021. 

In 2011, Fox and Telemundo nabbed the English and Spanish-language U.S. rights to the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup (some of the world’s biggest sporting events) for a combined total of nearly $1 billion. 

While these are not insignificant amounts in a vacuum, keep in mind that ESPN’s NFL rights alone cost $1.9 billion a year. ESPN and Turner pay the NBA $2.6 billion per year.

The new soccer games will be value-adds to CBS All Access and Peacock, while the licensed content offerings of each will likely be the first things many average consumers, i.e. not avid soccer fans, evaluate first when deciding whether or not they want to sign-up.

To that end, one of Peacock’s secret weapons is “The Office,” which is leaving Netflix at the end of the year. CBS All Access will benefit from Paramount library assets including “The Godfather” and the “Star Trek” films slated to hit its rebooted service.