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CBS Confirms It Snagged Champions League Soccer Rights Starting In 2021

Deadline — Dade Hayes

While CBS posted mixed third-quarter results Tuesday, the company’s acting CEO, Joe Ianniello, delivered a sports surprise during a conference call with Wall Street analysts.

CBS has won the rights to air UEFA Champions League soccer beginning in 2021, beating out several other suitors, Ianniello said. The package includes more than 400 matches a year, spanning nine months out of the year. All matches will stream live on CBS All Access, with select matches airing on the CBS broadcast network.

The deal brings “exclusive, live, marquee sports” to All Access for the first time, Ianniello noted. The service currently streams NFL games, but CBS shares football streaming rights with several other players.

“Soccer fans know these rights represent some of the most prestigious and popular soccer tournaments in the world, so we couldn’t be more pleased that we’ve won this hotly contested process,” Iannniello said. ESPN, NBCUniversal and Fox were all reportedly part of the bidding. Turner and Univision previously shared rights, and Univision has reportedly renewed the Spanish-language rights.

CBS is “finalizing contracts” and plans to release more information in the coming weeks, Ianniello said. While the acquisition startled many sports-rights watchers, its timing on the eve of the CBS-Viacom merger closing delivers a message to the market that CBS is serious about maintaining its sports leverage.

The Champions League is Europe’s top cup competition, fought between the winners of each of the domestic leagues including the English Premier League and Spain’s La Liga. Liverpool holds the current Champions League title, having beaten Tottenham Hotspur in an all-English final last summer.

While Ianniello did not address the value of the deal, Sports Business Daily recently reported CBS and Univision were paying a combined $150 million a year. CBS Sports declined to offer additional details beyond Ianniello’s comments.

Ianniello said the ability of CBS to both broadcast and stream matches, across a leading linear network and a growing streaming platform, helped carry the day with the Champions League. And for CBS, “it’s going to reduce churn. We think it drives subscribers, there are loyal fans. It is obviously the most popular sport in the world.”

The soccer win anchored Ianniello’s broader comments on the earnings call detailing expanding investment by CBS in streaming and programming in general. The spending has gradually ramped up and correlates with returns, he said. CBS did not provide an update on streaming subscribers during the call but has projected it will reach 25 million subscribers for both All Access and Showtime by 2022.

“As consumers shift from traditional bundles to skinnier bundles and to CBS All Access and Showtime OTT, we are getting paid higher rates per subscriber,” he said. Across traditional distributors, virtual MVPDs and the company’s own direct-to-consumer platforms, total subscriber levels increased 4% in the quarter.

The CBS broadcast network is off to “another great start,” airing five of television’s eight top-rated new series. “We will benefit from all five series into the future,” Ianniello said, and CBS owns four of the five.

While primetime viewership continues to decline for CBS and broadcast overall, NFL ratings have been strong through the first nine weeks of the season, rising 6%. Out-of-home viewing would boost that by another 11%, Ianniello said, and starting in September 2020, CBS will report all Nielsen numbers with the out-of-home portion included.

As the CBS-Viacom merger approaches its expected close in early December, one cross-company move flagged by Ianniello was an expected announcement Wednesday of new CBS channels being added to PlutoTV. The free, ad-supported streaming service, acquired by Viacom in January, has launched several Viacom channels in recent months. CBS, meanwhile, has gotten traction with several of its own AVOD networks including CBSN and CBS Sports HQ.

Peter White contributed to this report.

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