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NBCU May Put BPL Rights in Back of Its Net: Sources

When the Barclays Premier League kicks off its 2013-14 season, it will have a new telecast partner in the United States.

Sources familiar with the negotiations are indicating that NBCUniversal is in line to pick up the rights to England’s top-futbol circuit, a rights acquisition that would likely serve to bolster the rights' roster and value of national cable sports service, NBC Sports Network.

Sports Business Journal reports that an announcement about NBCU’s winning gambit, valued at an estimated $250 million for the 2013-14 through 2015-16 seasons, will be made early next week.

NBCU officials did not respond to requests for comment.

After an initial round didn't yield a winner on Oct. 18, the interested parties had to submit a second bid in the rights auction by Friday morning.

By late afternoon on the east coast, the incumbent Fox Sports Media Group, which submitted a joint bid with ESPN, issued a statement acknowledging that it would not retain BPL rights after its contract ends with this current campaign.

It was unclear at press time if Al Jazeera’s BeIN Sports entered or remained in the BPL hunt. Stateside representatives for the two soccer channels that launched in the U.S. in mid-August said they were not apprised of their client’s plans.

FSMG has been presenting BPL action on Fox Soccer and premium service Fox Soccer Plus, as well as an occasional big match on the broadcast network.

 “We were disappointed to learn today that English Premier League has elected to move forward with a different media partner despite Fox Sports Media Group's aggressive bid,” the company said in the statement. “Fox Soccer has been the primary U.S. voice of EPL for almost two decades, and has done much over the years to increase its popularity, value and availability. We wish them well.” 

The programmer noted that it continues to hold an array of top-flight soccer fare, including UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, FA Cup, CONCACAF Champions League, CONCACAF Gold Cup, and is the future home of FIFA World Cup and FIFA Women's World Cup, beginning in 2015 and extending through the 2022 competition in Qatar.

Still, the loss of the rights can't be discounted: BPL provides Fox Soccer and Fox Soccer Plus with significant weekend programming and is the second-most-watched soccer circuit in the U.S. behind Liga Mexico, that nation’s first division.

ESPN, which is sublicensing BPL matches from Fox through a package that previously had been held by the now defunct Setanta Sports USA, also issued a statement Friday evening.

“We are disappointed that our joint bid with Fox did not retain the English Premier League rights in the United States for the next three seasons. We thank the League, which has been a great business partner, and we wish them well.

“We’re proud of our role in growing the sport in this country and remain committed to soccer and to its fans," the statement continued. "We will continue to work with our colleagues at Fox to provide unrivaled coverage of the Premier League for the remainder of this season.”