NBC Sports closure raises questions over $1.3bn Premier League deal

January 27 – Premier League broadcast rights partner NBC, is shutting its Sports Network in the US and is expected to close operations by the end of 2021.

NBC has been a cornerstone of the Premier League’s international broadcast revenues with a six-year deal that started with the 2016-17 season and is worth about $1.3 billion to the Premier League.

NBC holds a renewal option for the Premier League rights that currently finish their current term at the end of the 2020-21 season, though whether it exercises that option in full remains to be seen.

Premier League agreements are made with a ‘content utilisation plan’ that specifies how and when games will be broadcast and any supplementary programming made around the live matches and use of non-live content. That plan is generally updated annually.

It is unlikely that NBC will try to exit its Premier League agreement early as it has used its live content across its feature networks and not just on its sports channels.

The network had already moved some of its games to NBC’s streaming service, Peacock, last year.

The split in time zones across the US has given NBC the opportunity to carve out mid-to-late morning niches for live content on the east coast with its five hour difference, and a stream of early morning content on the west coast with its eight hour difference. Matches have screened on regional affiliate stations to CNBC and NBC Gold.

US reports say NBC will transfer its sports media rights to USA Network, owned by parent company NBCUniversal, after NBC Sports Networks closes.

The end of NBC Sports Networks does not necessarily mean an end to NBC Universal’s appetite for Premier League content which is reckoned to have been a significant success for its broadcast operations. It more reflects its sports network’s struggle to mount a serious threat to ESPN, as well as the broadcast industry’s move towards streaming video, currently being accelerated by the global pandemic.

NBC has built a position in football (soccer) and a platform for the Premier League in the US. An end of NBC Sports network ambition is unlikely to be a disaster for the Premier League. Indeed the opportunity for its broadcast rights could be enhanced, though the deal for the next rights cycle is likely to be more layered than its partnership with NBC has been to date.

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