ESPN expected to announce LaLiga rights acquisition this week, say sources

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 05: Logo of Spanish football league "La Liga" is seen in Madrid, Spain on 05, 2019. (Photo by Burak Akbulut/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

ESPN is expected to announce later this week that it has acquired the English-language and Spanish-language media rights to Spain’s LaLiga, multiple sources have confirmed to World Soccer Talk.

Expectations are that an official announcement will be made on Thursday with confirmation that ESPN’s coverage of LaLiga will begin in August 2021, according to our sources.

World Soccer Talk reached out to both LaLiga and ESPN for comment. Spokespeople for both organizations declined to comment.

As first reported by World Soccer Talk in January, ESPN has been in talks to acquire LaLiga rights for the U.S. market for several months. beIN SPORTS had the exclusive rights in the United States through 2024 in a global deal between TV broadcaster and the league. However, carriage issues have plagued beIN SPORTS since 2019, and have prevented LaLiga from being a more popular league in the United States due to the limited distribution of its games.

While fans of LaLiga clubs have persevered with coverage of games on beIN SPORTS over the last two years, the Spanish top-flight league has found itself losing ground on more popular leagues in the United States such as the Premier League and Liga MX. At the same time, both Italy’s Serie A and Germany’s Bundesliga recently closed the gap with LaLiga by signing significant deals with media giants ViacomCBS and Disney/ESPN respectively to generate greater reach for both of those respective leagues. Serie A and Bundesliga will have some of the games featured on television. While the majority of the matches will be on streaming, both Paramount+ and ESPN+ are major players in the streaming landscape compared to the beIN SPORTS Connect streaming platform.

ESPN acquiring LaLiga games will be a massive boost for the Spanish league, especially for major clubs such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid who continue to expand their global fanbase.

World Soccer Talk also learned the following:

— ESPN has begun prepping talent for LaLiga for the start of the 2021/22 season, a source with knowledge of the situation revealed to World Soccer Talk

— LaLiga President Javier Tebas recently met with ESPN in the United States to discuss the rights deal, and

— A difference about ESPN’s strategy is that they are now focused on acquiring multi-year deals for soccer rights, according to a World Soccer Talk source.

Details about ESPN’s coverage plans for LaLiga are expected to be revealed in the coming days. Anticipation is that many of the games will be featured on ESPN+ as well as the main ESPN television networks and over-the-air ABC network.

In the streaming wars between the major media giants (Disney/ESPN+, NBCUniversal/Peacock, ViacomCBS/Paramount+), the race is on to try to acquire the rights to the available major soccer leagues and competitions. Both NBCUniversal and ViacomCBS have publicly shared how soccer has played a key role in generating many of the new signups to their streaming services. NBCUniversal’s CEO credited the Premier League as the number one driver of subscriptions and engagement to Peacock Premium before The Office moved to Peacock. And over at Paramount+, the Champions League has been the main driver of new subscribers outside of the NFL.

The timing of the expected acquisition of LaLiga rights is ideal for ESPN. Disney’s ESPN+ has been gobbling up soccer rights during the past two years including a long-term deal with Germany’s Bundesliga to stream every game. With ESPN+’s ambitious goal to double their number of subscribers by year end 2021, the streaming service has made soccer an integral part of its strategy to acquire new subscribers. What has been missing thus far has been more major soccer leagues. LaLiga, with heavyweights Barcelona and Real Madrid, is one. The other two are Liga MX (with rights currently held mostly by Univision/TUDN) and the Premier League (held by NBCUniversal).

The U.S. rights to the English Premier League will be coming up for bidding in the next few months. CBS Sports, ESPN and other broadcasters are expected to battle for the rights along with incumbent NBC Sports.


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