Less than three years ago, the brash new streaming service DAZN made a bold play for Canadian sports fans, snatching the rights to the English Premier League away from TSN and Sportsnet and declaring itself in a triumphal ad campaign to be “The New Home of Football.” Observers called DAZN, which is based in London and backed by billionaire Leonard Blavatnik, “the Netflix of sports,” for its global scale and promise to disrupt the traditional sports-media landscape.
But now the disruptor is getting disrupted, as another upstart in the Canadian market, New York-based fuboTV, is set to announce Thursday morning it has grabbed away those exclusive rights to EPL matches in a new three-year deal. Fubo had already snapped up the Canadian rights last year to Serie A and Coppa Italia matches, which had been in DAZN’s portfolio.
The move is the splashiest yet in this country for fuboTV, a sports-oriented streamer offering a collection of standalone services that includes OneSoccer, MLB Network, and beIN Sports, along with a handful of its own proprietary channels.
All 380 EPL matches each season will stream on the company’s Fubo Sports Network, kicking off with the 2022-23 campaign this August.
FuboTV launched in Canada in 2016 but only recently began to focus on its operations in this country. (It also serves the United States. France and Spain.)
The EPL deal “was really a great opportunity to get ourselves into Canada with a really meaningful offering,” said Vanessa Morbi, fuboTV’s vice-president of marketing, who was hired last fall to lead the company’s Canadian operations. “We think that there is a sizeable consumer segment in Canada that’s looking for premium soccer content.”
Terms of the deal were not disclosed. “I’d say we paid fair value for it,” said Ben Grad, senior vice-president of fuboTV. “It’s a great property.”
Rights fees for the EPL have skyrocketed in a number of territories. In the United States, NBC Sports last year paid more than US$2.7-billion for a new six-year deal, according to reports, or more than US$450-million annually – up sharply from its previous six-year contract, which was valued at US$1-billion. That is in a market in which only a handful of matches have ever exceeded one million viewers for English soccer, and more commonly pull in a little over half that figure.
Neither fubo executive would offer an estimate of the potential market of Canadian fans of the EPL, Serie A and Coppa Italia. “But certainly, as we were analyzing the opportunity, this made a lot of sense for fubo,” Morbi said. “We’re very confident around the appetite for this in Canada and really excited about the fan base. They’re very, very passionate.”
A high-profile property such as the EPL could help fubo establish itself in a segment of the market that has little awareness among consumers in Canada. Known as a virtual multichannel video programming distributor, or vMVPD, companies such as fuboTV offer a sort of online-based cable company bundle of channels, with live and on-demand programming. U.S. services in the segment include YouTubeTV, SlingTV, and Hulu + LiveTV, where monthly fees can range from about US$35 for a basic package of channels to about US$70.
FuboTV’s U.S. service, which includes more than 100 conventional broadcast and cable channels alongside its sports offerings, costs about US$65 monthly.
Its slimmed-down sports-focused Canadian service, which offers about a dozen channels, currently retails for $15 a month or $100 a year – a bargain for some fans, considering that its soccer channels on their own would cost more than $250 a year, if purchased individually.
Asked about the likelihood of a price hike, given the addition of the EPL to its lineup, Morbi said only: “We will remain competitive in pricing in the Canadian market.” She also noted the company would be “making some announcements in the first half of this year” regarding non-sports programming headed to the service.
Last November, fubo announced it had passed one million total subscribers in the United States, Canada and Spain. The company would not provide its Canadian subscriber figure to The Globe and Mail.
The vMVPD industry segment “is not a great margin business,” noted Brahm Eiley, president of The Convergence Research Group, which provides consulting services to telecom and programming companies. Still, “if there was a complete vMVPD offering in Canada similar to what Hulu or YouTube TV offer in the U.S., it would probably do quite well in Canada.”
A DAZN executive took the loss of the three soccer leagues in stride. “We look forward to delivering the remainder of this Premier League season as we also continuously explore opportunities to further expand both our live sports and original content offering for DAZN’s growing Canadian audience,” said Norm Lem, the senior vice-president of revenue for DAZN Canada.