Yesterday, the NBA announced a new nine-year contract with ESPN and Turner worth $2.66 billion per year, a massive increase over the current deal. That’s a lot of money, and surely inflated by the fact that sports programming will be scarce over the next few years. The NFL, that juggernaut of juggernauts, is under contract through 2022. The NHL has a contract with NBC for $200 million a year (a figure that now looks paltry) through the 2021-22 season. Even MLS went long, and won’t be done with the ESPN and Fox contract until 2021. Add those to baseball, NASCAR, the college football playoff, and March Madness, and you realize that the major American sports competitions are all locked down into the next decade.
But cable sports networks can’t just sit still from now until 2021. Both NBC and Fox have created alternatives (if not yet competitors) to ESPN. Live sports have resisted the erosion of viewership that seemingly all other television has suffered in recent years, and so they’ve become very valuable with the new cable competition. Fox in particular wanted a piece of the NBA pie, while NBCSN still often appears bare in the summer months. In a world where sports are increasingly valuable for television networks, and in a country where soccer is increasingly popular, we have a market where the largest available properties are soccer competitions.