Reports: English Premier League TV rights likely headed to Comcast-owned NBC Universal

NBC's bid for the English Premier League television rights is for approximately $83 million per year. (Jon Super/AP)

The soccer television landscape was jolted in a big way Friday afternoon by this report in the SportsBusiness Journal that the Comcast-owned NBC Universal is "the clear front-runner" to land the next round of English Premier League television rights.

According to the SBJ's John Ourand, NBC's bid is for approximately $83 million per year. That is more than three times the $23 million per year currently paid by Fox, which airs games on Fox Soccer Channel and sometimes on its broadcast network. Fox also sublicenses some games to ESPN.

Ian Darke, ESPN's lead announcer for Premier League broadcasts and other sports properties, posted this on Twitter early Friday evening:

Sadly our Espn adventure on Premier League coverage will end in May as EPL have taken rival offer from NBC. That's the TV rights business! 

Darke backtracked on that remark later Friday evening, tweeting this:

I should add that NBC getting new epl deal is yet to be officially confirmed. But definitely not espn or fox.

But a further indication of NBC's victory came from Noel Butler, a Montréal-based soccer color analyst and radio host for Canada's TSN.

TSN is a joint venture between Bell Media and ESPN, the latter of which owns 20 percent of the network. It frequently simulcasts ESPN's Premier League and Major League Soccer broadcasts, as well as a wide range of other sports events.

Butler posted this on Twitter:

With NBC to be announced next week as the 2013/16 US Barclays Premier League Rights Holders wonder if we'll see the NHL or the BPL 1st

I've got a lot of calls and e-mails out to sources within Comcast and the NBC Sports Group on this. So far all I have is one no comment. I'll let you know if I hear anything more. It's worth noting that NBC's top MLS crew, Arlo White and Kyle Martino, will be at PPL Park on Saturday to broadcast the Union-Red Bulls game on NBC's over-the-air network.

Fox and ESPN bid jointly to retain their current package, but were knocked out of the running. It appears that the only two networks left in the running are NBC and the al-Jazeera-owned beIN Sport, which owns rights to the Spanish, Italian and French leagues. beIN has struggled greatly to gain wide distribution on cable and satellite platforms since launching earlier this year.

Fox Sports issued the following statement Friday afternoon:

We were disappointed to learn today that English Premier League has elected to move forward with a different media partner despite FOX Sports Media Group's aggressive bid. FOX Soccer has been the primary US voice of EPL for almost two decades, and has done much over the years to increase its popularity, value and availability. We wish them well.

FOX Soccer continues to serve as the primary television and digital destination in the US for elite competitions including UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, FA Cup, CONCACAF Champions League, CONCACAF Gold Cup, and is the future home of FIFA World Cup and FIFA Women's World Cup beginning in 2015.

ESPN gave this statement to Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch:

We are disappointed that our joint bid with FOX did not retain the English Premier League rights in the United States for the next three seasons. We thank the League, which has been a great business partner, and we wish them well.

We're proud of our role in growing the sport in this country and remain committed to soccer and to its fans. We will continue to work with our colleagues at FOX to provide unrivaled coverage of the Premier League for the remainder of this season. 

English Premier League rights cycles last three years, and the current rights cycle expires after this season. Whichever network comes out on top in the current bidding process would begin its broadcasts in the 2013-14 season.