UEFA Champions League Skips Pure Streamers, Instead Reaches Deal with CBS, CBS Sports Network, and CBS All Access

Starting in the 2021, UEFA Champions League will be moving its English-language rights from TNT to CBS, according to Sports Business Daily. The three-year deal will see the telecasts air on CBS, CBS Sports Network, and CBS All Access — while the Spanish-language telecasts will remain with Univision. The new deal comes as a major surprise, as many expected ESPN and ESPN+, which already has a major presence in international soccer, as the leading contender.

Currently, the vast majority of Champions League games air on B/R Live, Turner’s sports streaming platform, with the biggest games on TNT. According to SBJ, both NBC, ESPN, and FOX each put in bids for the media rights, but none were as lucrative as the $150 million per year by CBS.

While many have expected sports rights to move to tech companies like Facebook, YouTube, and Amazon, this is just another example where linear distribution prevails. DAZN, the streaming sports service, which is most known for its boxing coverage, was reportedly interested. The service, which owns the rights to Champions League in Canada, probably could not compete with those with a larger footprint.

Unlike the current arrangement with Turner, more games will air on linear TV — and on network TV — which Turner couldn’t provide. For instance, last year’s Champions League final between Tottenham and Liverpool aired on TNT, while under the new deal — the final would air on CBS. Where the new deal will reduce reach though is games that air on CBS Sports Network, which is in just over 60% of cable homes, as compared to the nearly 99% of cable homes of TNT.