Walt Disney’s ESPN network has acquired US broadcasting rights to Spain’s La Liga with a new eight-season contract that escalates bidding wars for American media rights to European football.
Terms of the contract, announced on Thursday night, value the US rights at $1.4bn, according to one person familiar with the terms. That is more than the current six-year agreement between Comcast’s NBC and the English Premier League, worth a reported $1bn and set to expire after the 2021-2022 season.
The new deal severs an existing contract between La Liga and Qatar-based beIN Sports, which agreed to carry the Spanish football league in the US until 2024.
“The US is the most important market for La Liga outside of Spain,” said Boris Gartner, chief executive of LaLiga North America, who added “it was clear we needed to take that next step and find another partner” in order to develop the sport in the US.
The new deal is the latest example of the rapidly appreciating US market for live sports after the National Football League in March inked a blockbuster 11-year rights package worth as much as $110bn, more than double its existing agreements.
It also stands in contrast with rights trends for European football at home. This week, the English Premier League agreed to extend its domestic broadcast rights deal with Sky, BT and Amazon for a further three years, on roughly the same terms as its existing £5bn contract. Recently, top flight leagues in Germany and Italy have both posted declines in the sizes of their respective domestic media rights.
European leagues have for years been seeking to expand their fan bases, particularly in North America and China. In 2018, La Liga entered into a joint venture with Relevent Sports, the media and entertainment group started by real estate mogul Stephen Ross, to promote football throughout North America.
Burke Magnus, ESPN executive vice-president of programming and original content, said “we weren’t expecting La Liga to be available when conversations began”.
He acknowledged that US rights for European football were becoming more competitive, saying ESPN “would have liked to continue” with broadcasting Italy’s Serie A, which recently signed a new agreement with rival ViacomCBS. “Certainly, [Serie A] had their business reasons for going in a different direction,” said Magnus. The new terms with La Liga will emphasise ESPN’s streaming platform, ESPN+, as Disney as a whole seeks to add viewers to its “over-the-top” platforms. The company on Thursday also reported lower than expected new subscribers to its platforms, sending shares of Disney down more than 7 per cent after hours.