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Sky, subject of Fox-Comcast bidding war, loses key soccer rights

Sky, subject of Fox-Comcast bidding war, loses key soccer rights

Media group Sky has lost the rights to screen matches from Spain’s top soccer league La Liga in the U.K. and Ireland to television group Eleven Sports, dealing a blow to a company that is currently the subject of a bidding war between Fox and Comcast.

For the last two decades, Spanish football has been shown live on Sky television, but the broadcaster lost out on the rights to screen the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid from this summer until the end of the 2020/21 season.

Full details of how Eleven Sports plans to screen the matches have yet to be made clear, as the company currently doesn’t have a television channel in the U.K or Ireland. However, it has been suggested that matches could be streamed online or even offered back to Sky, which would then televise games as a secondary broadcaster.

Losing rights to La Liga, which is one of the most popular European soccer leagues, marks a setback for Sky, which retained the rights to broadcast the Premier League in the U.K. and Ireland for three more years, paying less on a per-game basis than it did in the previous round.

Sky has also emerged as an attractive investment opportunity for U.S. media companies looking to grow overseas. Last month, Comcast submitted a 22 billion pound ($30.7 billion) for Sky, exerting pressure on Fox, which already owns a 39% stake in Sky to up its 10.75 pounds per share cash offer it first announced in December 2016.

Founded in 2015, Eleven Sports is predominantly an “over-the-top” (OTT) platform, enabling subscribers to view and stream content via a website or app. But the establishment of its own television channel in the U.K. to show Spanish soccer hasn’t been ruled out.

“We are proud to build on our existing relationship with La Liga, this time in the U.K., one of the most passionate football countries in the world,” said Eleven Sports’ Chief Executive Marc Watson in a statement. “We will announce soon how we will introduce innovative ways for dedicated fans to watch and engage in the live action. The way people, especially young people, watch live sport is changing and we always try to reflect that in the ways we make our product available.”

Eleven Sports is owned by Andrea Radrizzani, who also owns English second-division side Leeds United, and already holds the rights to screen La Liga matches in Belgium and Poland. The company also shows Italian soccer and Formula 1 in several other countries in Asia.

Reports have suggested that this could open the door for Eleven Sports to bid for either of the remaining two Premier League domestic packages still to be allocated.

In February, Sky Sports and BT picked up 160 of the Premier League matches available per-season from August 2019, with the former taking 128 of them. However, Package F and Package G, comprising 20 matches each, are both still on the market, with Eleven Sports still reportedly amongst the interested parties.

—Reuters contributed to this report.

Disclosure: Comcast is the owner of NBCUniversal, parent company of CNBC and CNBC.com.

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