According to two published reports, it appears that NBC will lose the rights to Major League Soccer just two years after winning the bid to air the games in 2012. According to Goal.com and Philly.com, ESPN and Fox will win the rights beginning in the 2015 season. The deal could be officially announced as early as next week. SBJ reported that NBC pulled out of the bidding process.
It's a blow to NBC which was hoping to continue pairing English Premier League games with American soccer as it did last season. Instead, MLS returns to Fox after leaving for NBC two years ago. MLS ran on Fox Soccer between 2003 and 2012. Now with that channel gone, the games will air on Fox Sports 1 and perhaps Fox Sports 2.
ESPN will keep half of the MLS rights including U.S. Men's World Cup home qualifying matches which had been packaged with the deal. Both Goal.com and Philly.com report that a major reason why Fox bid heavily for MLS was to carry those World Cup Qualifiers.
Leading up to the 2014 World Cup, ESPN had exclusively aired the U.S. qualifiers. With Fox taking over the World Cup rights next year, it's expected that some of those games will move to Fox/Fox Sports 1, but it's not known exactly how many at this time.
An important part of the deal will be ESPN picking up online rights as reported by Ives Galarcep of Goal.com
Added tidbits to @GoalUSA MLS TV deal story. ESPN likely picking up online rights too so get ready for a lot more American Soccer on ESPN3
— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) January 10, 2014
This is a big win for ESPN and keeps the Worldwide Leader in the soccer business for at least the next few years. In addition to losing the World Cup, ESPN had lost the English Premier League so the network was willing to pony up to keep MLS. Time will tell whether either network will be able to increase MLS ratings, which went down sharply this past season.
So the battle for sports media rights is heating up. ESPN, Fox and NBC continue to fight for live sports content. The next big bid will be over the NBA as ESPN and Turner hope to fend off Fox's bid to buy into professional basketball.