When Major League Soccer inked their new rights deal with ESPN, one of the most interesting subplots of the deal was ESPN also acquiring the digital rights to MLS games. ESPN was supposedly creating an over the top service for MLS games that wouldn’t be airing nationally, but apparently, that’s not the case for the 2015 season. On Thursday, MLS announced that MLS Live would return for 2015 (at a special limited time price of $64.99 a year), and that ESPN would not be offering a package this season.
Unlike MLS Live, ESPN’s package was rumored to be free for those with an authenticated login, and would only cost money for cord cutters.
ESPN kicked the can down the road for another year with this statement, via Recode.
“Our collaborative relationship with MLS is long term,” ESPN rep Katina Arnold said in a statement. “Together, we discussed several potential options for the out-of-market games and determined that having them exclusively on MLS Live and MLS Direct Kick was the right option for this season.”
There are plenty of issues distribution wise with MLS Live. All of the national broadcasts on ESPN, Fox Sports 1, and Univision will be blacked out on the service (but presumably be available on WatchESPN and Fox Sports Go). Local blackouts will be in effect for half of the teams in the league, and yes, Columbus Crew fans without Time Warner are *still* blacked out.
On the surface, it looks like ESPN was concerned about the new streaming service being ready (or the payment plan for cord cutters, as hypothesized by Philly.com soccer aficionado Jonathan Tannenwald) before the first day of the MLS season. Tannenwald was also given the same statement as Recode, despite asking more detailed questions about how the situation unfolded.
So what now, MLS fans? It looks like your online experience will be the same as it was last season. There’s no way that MLS and ESPN would roll out this new service over the summer, going over those who already bought MLS Live for the 2015 season. The service that ESPN and MLS wanted to roll out was quite ambitious, and the numerous snags that MLS ran into with ESPN and Fox before finally agreeing to their new TV deal probably had somewhat of a hand in holding up this process.