We have covered MLS’ television deal for a long time here at Awful Announcing. Just in the past week, we’ve had stories about a deal being close, about a deal being really close, and a deal being done. Now, the deal is done, and we wait for it to be put in place and executed (hopefully well) in 2015.
I attended the press conference in New York City on Monday, and was able to get some brief 1-on-1 time with both MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Fox Sports President, COO and executive producer John Entz. This is me, essentially, emptying my notebook of every last little detail I could get out of everyone on Monday. Here’s more of what’s to come in 2015:
It has not yet been decided how ESPN and Fox will alternate league events. It is clear that the networks will split MLS Cup, the MLS All-Star Game and U.S. national team rights evenly. However, Garber said “we haven’t determined” how the cycle will work out. What might be as important? Getting a consistent date for MLS Cup.
Everyone seems open to flex scheduling, but how? ESPN and Fox’s windows will exclusively be Sundays at 5 and 7 p.m. ET, while Univsion will have a Friday night game. It was made clear that everything else will be meant to build around Saturday. Does that mean that Fox and ESPN won’t be able to flex more interesting games based on results or potential signings throughout the season?
“We’ve agreed that we’ll sit down and talk about it, but it’s not something that’s a part of our current scheduling plan. It’s something we’ll look at over the years,” Garber told me. “You’ve seen an add to some of the buzz with some of the leagues that do flex scheduling,” said Entz. “You’d like, over time, to have the flexibility to put your best game in that window.”
The timeslots will not change. It was made very clear: ESPN (primarily ESPN2) will get a game on Sunday at 5 p.m. ET every week. Fox Sports 1 (though occasionally Fox Sports 2 when the network has events like the U.S. Open and Women’s World Cup) will broadcast a game at 7 p.m. ET. ESPN president John Skipper admitted that the network hadn’t really gone all-in on previous attempts to brand soccer night (an abortive try at Thursdays in 2007-08 comes to mind) but both ESPN and Fox are behind this, and it’s what MLS wants.
Don’t immediately assume Gus Johnson will be working MLS. But that’s not to suggest Fox is any less behind him, or that he might not be involved. “We haven’t talked about it yet,” Entz admitted. “I will say that Gus has become very attached to the sport, he enjoys it very much. I wouldn’t rule it out. You take a look at Gus’ schedule over the year, he’s a very busy guy.”
Fox will bring back the Soccer Night in America branding. Sunday night is football night, after all. ESPN will brand their telecasts under a “Game of the Week” brand.
Univision’s telecasts will feature english-language audio options. This is a pretty big deal, as Univision gets the exclusive American rights to two MLS Cup Playoff games, meaning neither ESPN and Fox (which will split all others) can broadcast them. I’d be interested in seeing who Univision’s english voices would be, though we all know that if the game’s entertaining enough, we’ll all probably just watch in spanish.
Every U.S.-based club will be shown at least once per season. Though we imagine if Toronto FC continues to be the club of Michael Bradley, the Reds won’t be as foreign to American television as their baseball, basketball and hockey counterparts.
Save for MLS Cup, ESPN and Fox both retain Spanish language rights to their own matches. Meaning, essentially, that ESPN Deportes and Fox Deportes can both be partners with the league.
Cord-cutters are not cut out. While some speculated that ESPN taking over the league’s out-of-market package with ESPN3 might cut out MLS Live, that will not be the case. ESPN3 will merely be bringing out-of-market, regionally televised MLS matches to ESPN to what is essentially a national audience. Essentially, only people who have cut the cord from cable and satellite would pay for games.
Canada’s out-of-market digital product will not change. At least not now. Commissioner Garber seemed to suggest that this would not be addressed until MLS’s TV rights deal in Canada is up for renegotiation, meaning MLS Live is Canada’s only option for out-of-market domestic football. That’ll be a question for 2016.
This may be the end for rumors of MLS aligning its schedule with the world football calendar. The commissioner pointed out that network and league research that suggests that the league is better off going with its current schedule. Entz agreed, and both cited the fact that certain European leagues have suggested recently that the world calendar isn’t necessarily right for them. “I am even less bullish about the schedule change than I might have been a year ago,” said Garber.