The Sports Business Journal is reporting that NBC Universal is now considered the front runner for US EPL rights beginning with the '13/'14 season. The formal announcement is supposed to come next week, and the article also says that Fox Soccer and ESPN's joint bid was not accepted. It's unclear is beIN Sport is still in the running. The report claims that NBC's bid triples what Fox is currently paying for EPL rights.
When NBC decided last year to launch a cable sports network to compete with the likes of ABC/ESPN and the Fox Sports Network, it was combined with a commitment to soccer. As Versus, NBC had already acquired NHL rights discarded by ESPN and bought up some college football rights.
Acquiring EPL rights would give NBC Sports a weekend schedule of early morning English soccer feeding into college football which could feed into MLS. It's a lineup to make ESPN jealous, which is something no other sports cable network has ever been able to say.
The Fox Sports Network is a bit of an odd duck. Fox is mostly in the regional sports network game, which now also has competition from Comcast and Time Warner. Their cable college football games get broadcast on FX, and it's cable soccer rights are on what's now known as Fox Soccer.
It was Fox Soccer's MLS contract that NBC purchased. The contract gives NBC Sports 45 league matches and 4 United States national team matches. ESPN has the other MLS contract, and sublets off Fox Soccer's EPL contract. Should NBC get the EPL broadcast rights, this would leave ESPN without a soccer television contract after the 2014 World Cup. Fox Sports has the rights to the two subsequent World Cups.
So this isn't a pebble, this is a house thrown in a lake and the ripples are going to continue for a long time. Fox Soccer already lost US rights to Spain and Italy to cable sports network beIN Sport, and without English soccer weekends will be quite bare.
Fox still has Champions League and Europa League rights, which generate a fair amount of content. Still, a club league seems necessary, perhaps the Bundesliga is an option, but the English Premier League seems to be the one capable of driving respectable ratings.
ESPN has plenty of content and could just see this as an opportunity to move on from soccer. If ESPN is happy with its MLS ratings it could invest more into the league, but the early morning EPL matches are often the only time ESPN promotes upcoming MLS tilts.
In Los Angeles, Fox has operated two regional sports networks; Fox Sports West and the acquired Prime Ticket. Losing the Laker and Galaxy has folk wondering if Time Warner could go after the Kings (also owned by AEG) and the Dodgers (Guggenheim rumored to be considering purchasing AEG). It will be interesting to see what Fox's next move will be as it weathers these salvos from NBC Sports, beIN Sport, and Time Warner.