Activision Blizzard Esports has been in talks about getting Overwatch League back on linear TV, and the video game company has received fresh outreach from media networks amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) shutdown, sources say.
The esports series has an exclusive digital streaming rights deal with YouTube worth $160M USD total over three years, but OWL’s linear TV deal with ABC/ESPN ended after last season, without the sides announcing a renewal. No OWL matches have aired on TV in the U.S. so far this year on any channel.
However, Activision has continued talking to networks in recent months in hopes of finding a deal, and the sports shutdown from the virus could hasten OWL’s return to TV. Sources said that NBC Sports Group was in talks in recent months over a deal that would have seen OWL matches appear on NBC-owned RSNs throughout the country; OWL has been trying a novel approach with basing their teams in cities around the world and holding home/away matches, and the NBC deal could have been a boon for teams in getting local media coverage.
Still, a deal has yet to be announced, and it was not clear if NBC Sports is still negotiating with the property.
ESPN confirmed to The Esports Observer in late February that its deal with Activision Blizzard for OWL had concluded, but ESPN could back to the table given its lack of live programming to show currently. While the rights fee that ESPN paid to OWL previously is unclear, OWL’s viewership is heavily tilted toward the digital side, so the linear rights would likely be significantly cheaper than the rights that YouTube acquired this season.
Meanwhile, the league this week announced that the rest of the regular season will be played through online-only matches because of the virus.
Activision Blizzard and NBC Sports declined comment.
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