The longest ongoing saga in the sports media industry just might be current rights negotiations between MLS and its prospective television partners. After looking like a deal was signed, sealed, and delivered in the earlier parts of the year (with dollar amounts even being reported), talks began to drag. And drag. And drag some more. At least we know where Jose Mourinho finally decided to park his bus.
We reported in March that there were several issues still up in the air in terms of finalizing a new TV deal. We’re now four months on from the initial word of a deal being struck between MLS and Fox/ESPN, but a resolution may finally be on the horizon. We’ve heard from several sources that Fox and ESPN are expected to announce a deal with MLS sometime next week, bringing an end to a very protracted process. Both may come as early as Monday.
This comes on the heels of ESPN President John Skipper saying his network was on the “precipice” of finalizing a new contract with Major League Soccer last week at a media event in New York City promoting ESPN’s World Cup coverage. Skipper made light of the lenghty negotiations, as captured by Philly.com’s Jonathan Tannenwald:
“We’ve been telling people for six months now, I think, that we’re on the precipice of getting a deal, and we are on the precipice of getting a deal,” ESPN president John Skipper said. “It’s the longest I’ve ever been on a precipice, but we expect to be partners with Major League Soccer going forward.”
It’s long been assumed as a formality that ESPN and Fox would eventually and officially win MLS rights for the next rights cycle. However, there have clearly been major hang-ups along the way including distribution, the use of FS1 vs FS2, television schedules, USMNT games, etc.
Could another late snag prolong things even further? It’s possible, especially given the path we’ve traveled here. However, the expectations of those close to the situation are that a deal will be announced next week.
Then we will finally see the impact of the most important TV deal in the history of Major League Soccer. If MLS has a significant rights fee increase and given consistent broadcast windows, this deal could be a turning point in the league’s television presence.