U.S. Programmers Make Bids for Barclays Premier League Rights

Fox, ESPN, NBC in Auction for Next Cycle of Top English Soccer Circuit's Matches

With the deadline today, a number of sports programmers have submitted bids for the next cycle of Barclays Premier League media rights in the U.S.

After the Football Association Premier League Limited released its tender documents, U.S. networks had until Oct. 18 to declare their financial interest in the property. Arguably the world’s top futbol circuit, the English league is the second-most-watched league in the U.S. behind Liga Mexico, that nation’s premier soccer division.

As of press time, there was no word out of England as to whether one of the bids had been accepted, or if the auction would advance into another round. The current U.S. contract expires with the close of the 2012-13 season.

Incumbent Fox Sports Media Group said it submitted a bid to retain BPL rights, which it currently airs on Fox Soccer, premium service Fox Soccer Plus, Fox Deportes and occasionally on Fox Broadcasting.

ESPN, which currently sublicenses a package of matches from Fox, is said to have entered a bid that cuts across its varied platforms, including ESPN Deportes.

NBC Sports Group, which recently acquired the rights to Formula 1 racing and whose windows could conflict with BPL matches on Saturday and Sunday mornings, was thought to have made a play.

Although most observers expected a gambit, it was unclear at press time if beIN Sport -- the Al Jazeera Sports-backed enterprise that launched Stateside soccer-centric English- and Spanish-language networks in mid-August -- entered an offer. When BPL rights were available in the U.K. this past June, it was widely reported that Al Jazeera Sports would make an offer, but it never submitted a bid. In the U.S.,beIN has the rights to the league's in Spain, Italy and France and it would have to shuffle its schedule to open windows for BPL action.

IMG, the global sports and media company, did not return phone calls about whether it had entered the fray as a precursor to reaching sublicensing deals with U.S. network players.