For the first time, after many years of promises, it appears that Major League Soccer will get consistency, longevity and a little more cash from American television.
In a story that has long been gestating, and that Awful Announcing broke the imminence of last week, Major League Soccer agreed to an eight-year contract for english-language television rights with ESPN and the Fox Sports Media Group. The league also came to an agreement with Univision for Spanish-language rights. The agreement will take the league and the networks through the 2022 MLS season, as well as qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.
SBJ reports the deal is worth $90 million per year, which makes it more valuable than the rights deal between the English Premier League and NBCSN at $83 million per year.
The New York Times broke down some of the important details of the story: consistent, Friday (for Univision) and Sunday (for ESPN and Fox Sports 1) timeslots for every week of the season. ESPN and Fox Sports 1 will combine for a Sunday doubleheader every week, and the three networks together will air a total of 125 MLS matches per season. The networks also split evenly the english-language rights to the United States Men’s National Team through, as we mentioned previously, qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, which will air (as well as the 2018 tournament) on Fox.
A source with knowledge of the information that will be made public of the deal confirmed the following to Awful Announcing: ESPN3 will take over the out-of-market streaming of non-nationally televised games, which the league had previously done itself through MLS Live. ESPN and Fox’s networks (none specifically given) will alternate broadcasting MLS Cup (which had aired on either ABC, ESPN or ESPN2 since the league’s inception in 1996) as well as the MLS All-Star Game. (Note: These details were also reported by SBJ this morning.) The league, the U.S. Soccer Federation and the networks will announce the deal at a press event today in new York City.
MLS drew this negotiation out longer than anyone thought it would, and it ended up with the partners everyone thought that they would end up with. However, the particulars are important: they will be on the same networks as the USMNT as well as the UEFA Champions League; they will have consistent timeslots for the first time in their history as they expand into New York City, Orlando, Atlanta and possibly Miami; and they will start earning a rights fee that, while not quite in the league of the “big four” North American sports, sends them on their way to possibly growing into one in the distant future.
The drawbacks: there may be a backlash among cord-cutters, who will now be unavailable to watch their teams without subscribing to cable or going HBO Go and borrowing their friends’ subscriptions.
What the league ends up with is a consistent place for them to try and grow their brand. A shot at giving their league a “destination” night where their growing legion of supporters in markets like Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and elsewhere across the country can show national audiences what they’re about. A shorthand for America’s premier soccer league on television, if you will.