As Fox enters its final season of broadcasting the UEFA Champions League before Turner takes over the rights, the competition’s longtime rights-holder is going out with a bang.
On Tuesday, Fox announced a partnership with Facebook to broadcast a slate of Champions League games on the behemoth social networking platform during the 2017-18 season, free of charge.
The package of games will feature two on each group-stage match day, which encompasses a Tuesday and a Wednesday. Expect to see one game on Facebook on each of those days. The deal also includes four round-of-16 games and four quarterfinals.
“Facebook is a social media powerhouse and a great partner to help us grow soccer in the United States,” Fox Sports head of business operations David Nathanson said in a statement. “As people spend more and more time on mobile devices and social networks, offering matches on this platform is a natural extension.”
A group-stage match day includes 16 games, with eight each on Tuesday and Wednesday. Fox has usually put one game on Fox Sports 1, one on Fox Sports 2, and one on Fox Sports Net regional affiliates, with online distribution through the network’s free-with-authentication streaming platform Fox Sports Go.
Other games have been distributed through the network’s paid subscription streaming service, which used to be called Fox Soccer 2 Go and has been rebranded as Fox Soccer Match Pass. At times, there has also been a whip-around show on Fox Soccer Plus, a subscription linear TV channel. The whip-around show has also been available through the paid streaming service. On days when FS1 has other contractual commitments, such as auto racing or college sports, games have been bumped down the hierarchy of channels accordingly.
In addition to all of that, in the last few years Fox has sub-licensed a package of games to ESPN for carriage on English TV via ESPN2, Spanish TV via ESPN Deportes, and online via WatchESPN. That has included some games televised on Fox networks. ESPN’s deal will continue this season.
Round-of-16 and quarterfinal days usually have two games per day, with one on FS1 and one on FS2 in English. Spanish coverage has been split between Fox Deportes and ESPN Deportes.
It’s not known yet exactly which Champions League games Facebook will carry. But Facebook head of global sports partnerships Dan Reed appeared to drop a hint when he said, “This collaboration unlocks new distribution for FOX, giving the network a national platform for matches that won’t always be televised.”
Reed also noted that there might be “different matches broadcast in English and Spanish on Facebook,” which would increase the number of games available on the platform.
Fox has been the U.S. English and Spanish rights holder for all UEFA Champions League and Europa League games since the 2009-10 season. Turner Sports will take over English-language rights next season, having signed a deal for 2018-21. The network reportedly paid more than $60 million per year for the privilege. Univision will have Spanish-language rights during that time, having reportedly paid around $35 million per year.
Facebook’s deal is its third for live soccer rights. It previously struck two agreements with Univision: one for English-language simulcasts of the network’s marquee Mexican league games, and one for English-language simulcasts of the network’s Major League Soccer broadcasts. The MLS games feature an entirely separate broadcast crew from the English-language television simulcast that’s available through the SAP button on your remote control, if your TV provider carries the feed.
CONCACAF also has used Facebook as a distribution platform for English-language broadcasts of its Champions League and youth national team tournaments, but those didn’t come via an official rights deal. The confederation simply put its streams on the platform to make them widely available.