Last August, Turner Sports announced they would be taking over coverage of the UEFA Champions League from FOX Sports. They also have the rights to the Europa League.
It was a surprising announcement to say the least. FOX had been the broadcasters since the 2009-10 season. And ESPN had the rights for at least 14 seasons prior to that.
For their coverage of the two European club competitions, Turner Sports is rolling out an 'over the top' (OTT) streaming service for the games not broadcast on one of their stations. Initially, there seemed to be some consideration for using TNT, TBS, and TruTV for the match days. Instead, it looks like TNT will air two games each day during the first round, while switching to one a day during the knock out phase.
UEFA has decided to have two kickoff times for games on each match day--1pm and 3pm EST. Turner Sports will air one game from each start time on TNT. That means three games at each kick off time will not be covered on a normal cable channel. This is where the OTT streaming service will kick in.
More than likely if you follow a big side like Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, or Real Madrid, you can go without having to access the stream service. It seems logical that barring some weird grouping situations or timing conflicts, those teams will always be selected for the normal cable service.
Fans whose teams aren't getting coverage will be able to buy the streaming package for $2.99/game, $9.99/month, or $79.99 for the whole year.
But, if your team is in the Europa League, like say Chelsea, well you should probably go ahead and invest in the full year package. Or at a minimum check think about how you're going to access the streaming option. Because, Turner Sports has decided to only offer the Europa League final on their cable station. All the other games will be on the OTT service.
Turner has taken a page from NBC's book. Last season the Premier League broadcaster utilized a similar service for the games not being broadcast on their slate of cable channels. They, like Turner, felt there was value in offering up the option to watch under-represented sides via an OTT service.
That said, there were significant complaints about strength and the actual value. For $50/season, the service was at best inconsistent and often completely shut down. Personally, I chose not to renew my subscription for this season. I'm also a Liverpool fan and feel like they're likely to be on the cable coverage anyway.
The Atlanta based company has also sought to boost their soccer coverage credentials by signing some notable pundits. Kate Abdo will be the host for the pre-game, halftime, between-game, and post-game coverage (interestingly enough Turner has pitched this set up as four new shows, when really it's just the same sort of game coverage we've always had). Tim Howard and Steve Nash have signed on as analysts with Stuart Holden's name mentioned as another yet to be signed.
One step up from FOX's coverage will be that Turner will use the world broadcast instead of their own in studio commentators. Alexi Lalas haters can breathe a sigh of relief knowing they won't have to listen to his voice during a Champions League match. Plus, personally, it always sounds better to have the commentators inside the park giving us the play-by-play rather than sitting in a sound booth somewhere in Atlanta or LA.
'Cord-cutters' should like this new option, too. It's one less thing to worry about, no more boxes or weird remotes. That said, if the streaming has half the problems of the NBC Gold, it won't be worth it.
Turner Sports looks to be banking on a business theory called "the Long Tail." It was created by Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief at Wired Magazine. The idea is that while bigger market items will certainly make up a majority of your revenue, smaller market items if packaged correctly in non-traditional formats could eventually produce enough revenue to rival those of the bigger markets. In this case, Turner knows their money maker, right now at least, will be the coverage of the most popular teams on their main channel. But they're also banking on the longer term expansion of revenue from coverage of teams with the smaller fan bases. If those fans move towards the OTT service to watch their team's play, they could add to Turner's revenue.
The other side of the coin, however, could be that those smaller fan groups switching to OTT would actually cause a noticeable decrease in viewership for the games on the regular cable coverage. That may lead to less advertising revenue for Turner.
It may not matter after all. The Champions League, and to an extent the Europa League, are fairly popular here in the US. I'm genuinely curious to see if this sort of service takes off or if it flounders. Will it lead to a weakening of the popularity of the Champions League in the US? Will the streaming service crash like NBC's did all too often last season?
All I know is I'm ready for the season to start.