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Being in the US, and a sports fan, it is impossible not to be aware of the huge amounts of money changing hands for sports teams be it the NFL, NBA, or MLB. I've always assumed these contracts are worth so much money because these events draw viewers which in turn drive up advertising fees.

Now seeing the nature of soccer being two non-stop halves, this makes for a telecast with few commercials. My question to you, is how do broadcast stations make money with so few commercials during any given game?

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    Adding to the above, there is a huge following for European soccer in Asia (specifically south and SE Asia). The channels here are subscription-plus-ads, so you can imagine how lucrative they are. – Sumesh Dec 12 '12 at 18:49
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Sports are so lucrative for the reasons you mention (huge ad revenue). But you fail to mention the reason the ad revenues are so high. People don't Tivo sports. Sure some people do, but for the most part people want to watch sports live. This is why ad revenue is so high.

Football (Soccer) has struggled to get a TV footing in the states, and has only now just begun to do so. There are two main strategies for monetizing football games here:

  1. Put your match on cable. This is the primary strategy, the ESPN networks, Fox Soccer channel and other cable TV channels do not rely as heavily on advertising as the "over the air" networks (ABC/CBS/FOX/NBC) do. This is because they get a significant chunk of their money directly from cable companies. Most channels that go heavy on soccer programming will be in a sports tier package that costs the subscriber more money because it costs the cable company more money.

  2. Get some sponsors. When matches began airing in the US commercial free on non-cable TV (my first recollection of this was the 94 WC in the states, but that's probably because it's the first one I watched) they got companies to sponsor an entire half, or part of a half. They showed their logo next to the score and probably did some voice promotions.

  3. Air your tournament both OTA and on cable. If you're a big company like Disney (ABC + ESPN family of networks), you might have both OTA providers and cable providers. That means you can air some games on your OTA networks and others on pay cable. This is what Disney does with the World Cup, many games are on ESPN and some marquee matches are on ABC. This provides access, but also protection for your OTA network, all of their time slots are not consumed by ad-less TV.

Most of the time you're going to see both of these strategies used. Even the cable networks use integrated advertisements during the half. Part of the reason you don't see more games on live OTA TV in the US is because it's currently hard to monetize and only appeals to a small subset of the American audience, this subset is willing to at least pay for EPSN and probably even pay for a higher sports tier cable plan so they monetize this way.

This all combines to result in football being a far less lucrative sport for the networks than the easier to monetize baseball, basketball, ice hockey and American football. You don't see multi-billion dollar soccer contracts yet, and until they figure out a better way to monetize it in the US they won't.

  • A bit irrelevant to the OP but since you touched the subject I feel like mentioning the fact that while NBA or NFL might feature the biggest international stars of the sport, the MLS is nowhere close to the same standard. This is partly due to the rather little viewership in the U.S. but also the fact that football goes way back in Europe. I can't see MLS being more than a place for fading stars to cash in before they retire (at least not for another 5-10 years). – posdef Nov 26 '12 at 17:35
  • @posdef Yes, the lack of MLS star power is a problem. But US networks that specialize in soccer mostly air the European stuff, as well as the major international competitions. Things like WC qualifiers and the WC itself also air. None of things things lack star power, although those stars are far less recognized than major baseball, football and basketball stars here. – wax eagle Nov 26 '12 at 18:01
  • This didn't explicitly answer my question, but I think it better explains the spirit of what I was asking. – Jerrod Nov 26 '12 at 22:29
  • @Jerrod basically what I'm trying to do here is that. You're asking how they make money, I'm explaining the revenue streams available. Basically for the cable channels, offering soccer is their way of getting more subscribers. For the networks they get sponsors for halves, but probably don't even break even there. It's a lot about gaining fans and driving people to subscribe to the cable channels. – wax eagle Nov 27 '12 at 1:18
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I can only speak for Germany but here the Bundesliga (national soccer league) games are only available in paytv for live broadcasts so they collect a fee directly and are then commercial free. The only matches available in free tv are the openers of the season halves (so the season opener and the first match after winter break) and the relegation matches. (see wikipedia). Some free tv stations have shows presenting summaries of the games. Those usually are 3-10 minutes per game so there is space for commercials.

For international games the rights usually are bought by public tv (ard,zdf) which aren't allowed to show commercials after 8pm anyways but usually have bigger funds to buy the broadcasting rights than commercial tv stations.

So to sum in Germany soccer live broadcasts are financed by fees for either pay tv or public tv.

I would think most other countries have a similar system but I'm not really sure.

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Best leagues in Europe are almost always on pay channels, which end up cashing in serious sums of money from fans, especially from pubs and cafés that show the game to their guests.

In some countries you could see ads added on the dead spots on the pitch (e.g. behind the goals) and even overlaid on the fans sometimes. It's pretty annoying to have invasive ads like that but public channels don't have many other options that to rake in as much money from ads as they can.

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