As we continue with the guest columns this week, we have this one from reader Matt Lichtenstadter. In this post, Matt writes about the possibility of Al Jazeera’s new US soccer channel making in-roads through obtaining the rights to the English Premier League. It’s a fascinating scenario and one that could change the landscape of sports in the US if Al Jazeera is successful.
Matt looks at Al Jazeera’s attempts to obtain programming and start a war with ESPN and Fox.
It’s no secret now that soccer is becoming more and more popular in the U.S, especially the club variety. The English Premier League is quickly becoming a rights commodity for FOX and ESPN alike, and it’s almost time to negotiate TV rights for the 3 seasons starting in 2013. These negotiations worldwide will net the Premier League over $1.5 billion (for comparison, the new NFL deals in total netted around $3 billion for 8 years). While the British rights are often the most interesting to follow, the US rights may be more interesting than that. Not only will FOX and ESPN duke it out, there will be a new player in the mix that may cause quite a stir.
Al Jazeera is often thought of as the network for the Middle East, and it is one of the largest media networks in the world. They have a large sports division that covers sports for the Middle East as well. Now, with money backed up by the Qatari royal family, they have started a sports network called beINSport USA, which next year will cover La Liga from Spain, Serie A from Italy, and Ligue 1 from France. They have already poached the famous duo of Phil Schoen and Ray Hudson from GolTV most likely, and the Premier League will very likely be their next rights target. They have tons of money to play with, as seen with some of the club teams that Qatari’s own, but will that be enough to sway the pendulum away from the status quo?
Al Jazeera English, the news arm of the network broadcast in English, is only carried by Dish Network right now, and it’s assumed that they will also carry the new sports network. But aside from that, they have no other apparent carriage deals in the hopper. It’s very likely that most of the country will be shut out from watching 3 of Europe’s biggest club soccer leagues this year because of carriage issues. If Al Jazeera wants to grab Premier League rights, they’ll have to expand their footprint on American carriers, fast. ESPN obviously has an incredibly wide distribution, and FOX Soccer has a good network as well. FOX and ESPN have a lot to play for in these rights negotiations, especially considering these networks are the home of the World Cup up until 2022. FOX wants to keep its soccer profile high leading up to the World Cup in 2018, and since John Skipper is a major proponent of soccer at ESPN, you know he’ll be very interested in getting the major package for his network in order to keep their soccer profile high after they lose FIFA events after the next World Cup.
It’s no doubt that Al Jazeera has plans for their brand new sports network, and the Premier League could be at the top of their wish list. They have the money to make it happen, but can they compete with the likes of FOX and ESPN, especially considering what they have at stake with their soccer broadcasts? Time will tell, but if you want to see how well Al Jazeera is doing, check on their carriage rights deals and see how many they have by December, when the rights will most likely be sealed. There’s a new player on the US soccer scene, and everyone better take them seriously.
Bio: Matt Lichtenstadter has his own sports blog, Matt’s Sports Musings, which you can find at http://www.mattssportsmusings.com/. He’s also written a few pieces like this for other blogs as well. He wants more work. Help his pour blogging soul. He’s also on twitter @JagsFan93.
The guest columns continue through tomorrow. Thanks to those who have provided the guest columns this week and I’ll be back Monday.