By Benjamin Mullin and Joshua Robinson 

ViacomCBS Inc. landed the U.S. rights to show soccer matches from the UEFA Champions League, the company said, a deal that adds a popular live-sports property to its CBS All Access streaming service.

The four-year agreement, terms of which weren't disclosed, gives ViacomCBS exclusive English-language rights to show Champions League matches, including on its CBS broadcast network, the CBS Sports cable network and CBS All Access, the company said. The deal also covers two other competitions, the UEFA Europa League and UEFA Europa Conference League.

The Champions League, which holds club soccer's most prestigious tournament, was put on hold earlier this year when the coronavirus pandemic swept across Europe, wiping out live sports and forcing media companies to come up with alternative programming. AT&T Inc.'s Turner Sports in June opted out of the last year of its deal with European soccer's governing body, UEFA, allowing the league to seek another U.S. media partner.

In June, UEFA announced that it would resume play in August with an eight-team tournament held in Lisbon over two weeks. ViacomCBS's deal with UEFA will allow the company to show those games, featuring such teams as Bayern Munich and Manchester City, giving its lineup a shot in the arm in the midst of a slowdown of big sporting events.

The coronavirus pandemic forced the NCAA to cancel its annual March Madness collegiate basketball tournament, which is a reliable ratings driver for both CBS Sports and Turner Sports. The pandemic has also created added uncertainty for the National Football League season, a major staple of broadcast and cable TV.

A spokeswoman for ViacomCBS declined to comment on whether the deal had a provision that allows the company to withhold rights fees if an outbreak of coronavirus puts the UEFA matches on hold.

The deal provides a popular live-sports property for CBS All Access, which ViacomCBS has anointed as its flagship direct-to-consumer streaming service.

"It's great timing for us as we embark on expanding CBS All Access to be a cross-company streaming service for ViacomCBS," Marc DeBevoise, the company's chief digital officer, said in an interview Wednesday.

ViacomCBS said earlier this year that it would put additional shows from its cable networks and its Paramount movie studio on the service as part of a bid to expand its subscriber base.

The company's streaming strategy doesn't solely rely on CBS All Access. Earlier this month, ViacomCBS announced that it was licensing some of its popular TV shows and movies to Comcast Corp.'s NBCUniversal unit for its Peacock streaming service.

ViacomCBS said on its first-quarter earnings call that its domestic streaming and digital-video revenue rose by over half compared with the same period in the previous year.

U.S. television hasn't always been a happy home for the Champions League. CBS will be the competition's third broadcaster in five years, following challenging stints by Fox Corp.'s Fox Sports and AT&T's Turner Sports. Fox Corp. and Wall Street Journal parent News Corp share common ownership.

As both Fox Sports and Turner Sports discovered, the Champions League can be a challenge to follow for American audiences, despite the glitz of the sport's giants duking it out over 10 months to become European champions.

The biggest struggle is that matches are played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights in Europe, unlike most domestic league games, which are played on weekends. On the East Coast of the U.S., that puts the Champions League squarely in the middle of workday afternoons.

Spokesmen for Turner Sports and Fox Sports declined to comment.

ViacomCBS will also hope to match the cultural impact that NBCUniversal has made in its coverage of the English Premier League. Since taking over the rights to games from England's top division in 2013, the broadcaster has become a model for how to build a following for soccer in the U.S. NBCUniversal's six-year contract with the Premier League, which runs through the 2021-22 season, is worth $1 billion.

Write to Benjamin Mullin at Benjamin.Mullin@wsj.com and Joshua Robinson at joshua.robinson@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 08, 2020 20:44 ET (00:44 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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