Google Will Acquire US Media Rights to MLS and USMNT Games, Predicts Industry Publication

Journalist John Ourand, who writes for sports media industry publication Sports Business Daily, predicts that the upcoming rights deal for Major League Soccer will see Google come out as the winner, picking up a portion of the US media rights to MLS and USMNT games.

The current deal between ESPN and MLS, which was agreed in 2006, and expires in 2014, was packaged together with rights to home USMNT games. ESPN is currently paying less than $9 million a year for the rights, while NBC are paying $10 million a year to show MLS games. Both ESPN and NBC have seen a decline in TV viewing numbers for MLS games (plus the 2013 MLS Cup was the least viewed final in the league’s 17-year history), so it’s not surprising that MLS is trying to shake things up to gain a competitive advantage Stateside against many of the top soccer leagues from around the world that are more accessible and shown more often on TV and Internet than domestic games.

Negotiations for the MLS/USMNT rights deal began in October, and the winning bidder is expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

Sports Business Daily predicts that Google will create a subscription sports package:

“Before Google can make a splash with a big rights deal, it has to show that YouTube can handle a subscription package — and 2014 will be the year. Look for the company to set something up around U.S. and international soccer, potentially positioning the company as a player for rights in the next decade.”

YouTube already has the technology to utilize subscription packages, and MLS would be an excellent opportunity to allow Google/YouTube to dip its toe in the water to see if it can convince soccer fans to subscribe to MLS games on a game-by-game or season-package basis.

Read: Why MLS Has Bigger Issues Than Just Poor TV Ratings.

Whether Ourand has inside information regarding his prediction, we’ll have to wait and see. But he seems quite confident in his analysis, and allowing Google/YouTube an opportunity to stream matches as part of a paid subscription makes sense for both the league and technology company.

Two issues remain regarding a paid subscription to MLS on YouTube, however. First, offering select games on the Internet will shut out those soccer fans who either may not have computers or reliable Internet access. While that percentage is becoming smaller as each year passes, it’s still an issue to consider. And second, there remains the elephant in the room, which is illegal streaming of games that is a practice that is becoming more accepted and utilized. If MLS and Google offer a superb online package that is affordable and reliable, this will go a short way to encouraging people to pay for a package. But there will always be a significant portion of people who will watch illegal streams, and that will ultimately hurt the bottom line numbers for both MLS and Google.

Editor’s note: For the latest MLS news, analysis and opinion, visit the Major League Soccer page.

18 thoughts on “Google Will Acquire US Media Rights to MLS and USMNT Games, Predicts Industry Publication”

  1. Google getting into televised sport is a potential game changer for the industry. Imagine if they had the EPL not NBC. Not sure I like the idea myself but then I’m old school.

  2. The article should read:

    “MLS will have no choice but to sell its rights to Google.”

    ESPN won’t renew.

    NBC will likely lowball MLS.

    FOX will likely lowball MLS.

    1. TV Deals are the bread and butter for all Sports leagues and MLS is shooting itself in the foot by fielding a sub-par product. The ratings speak for itself, no one is watching MLS.

      1. Another idiot. TV ratings are low for MLS because of two reasons, the first reason is beacuse MLS doesn’t have time slots & the secound reason is because of MLS not being in many major markets. Not because of the product not being the EPL.

    2. All these networks will be fighting for MLS TV rights, beacuse of MLS Expansion in the south east & another team in NYC. MLS expanding into top TV market area’s in the country will improve ratings. However these networks will also wan’t MLS to adopt a flexible schedule, while MLS will wan’t time slots to be added to any deal.

    3. The big boys will bid for it. How much remains to be seen, if they go to Google it won’t be because they have to. From my cable plan I 13 sports channels just from ESPN, Fox, NBC, and CBS with several other smaller outlets. There is such a demand for content to fill time slots on all the channels that someone is likely to overpay for it.

  3. This headline is a little misleading.

    I read the SBJ piece and the author doesn’t specifically state Google will win the rights just that it would like to win the rights.

    NBCSN doesn’t have a lot of properties to fill it’s schedule so to assume they will let MLS walk away doesn’t make much sense.

  4. “Two issues remain regarding a paid subscription to MLS on YouTube, however. First, offering select games on the Internet will shut out those soccer fans who either may not have computers or reliable Internet access. While that percentage is becoming smaller as each year passes, it’s still an issue to consider.”

    It’s anecdotal to be sure, but among my friends we have the opposite problem. All of us have reliable internet access but nobody pays for a cable TV subscription. So we’re currently locked out of watching games (MLS Live is worthless because of blackouts).

    I doubt we’re the majority — it’s just my people — but I can’t help thinking that’s a rising population and not a falling one.

    If I could pay to watch Timbers away games at home without having to bring in the entire cable TV infrastructure and buying dozens or hundreds of channels I don’t care about then I would.

    1. That’s a great point. There are all sorts of little issues like this that make these products less than they could be.

      Even when you have paid TV, you can run into problems. I have DirecTV and TimeWarner for internet and I can’t access ESPN3. I presume that is because TimeWarner doesn’t want me to use their cable infrastructure to access a product that I’m paying DirecTV for.

      Another example is how the mobile apps for many content providers only work when you are on your home network.

      It is just a little annoying. I do wish I could just pay for the bandwidth and content that I want.

    2. I thought he same thing. They are worried about people w/o internet, but what about people who are cutting the cord.

      I actually love MLS Live. I don’t live in a market so I only get a blackout when the game is on a nation la network. When that happens I stream the games.

      I know the article also covers people who stream, but I would gladly pay for streaming instead of the poor quality ones I have now. All I watch on TV is soccer so paying over $1000 is a waste, MLS Live and the old Fox Soccer streaming was a deal!

  5. Overall, this will be a good thing. More interested parties drives up the price in any auction situation.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about normal TV being shut out. I can’t imagine that MLS would choose to bundle internet and TV rights together to Google – with the knowledge that Google was just going to sit on the TV rights – unless Google made them some incredible offer.

    Functionally, this probably just means that Google would take over MLS Live, right? That makes total sense. Providing that service itself is the type of vertical integration that never makes much sense.

  6. I have been a season ticket holder for the Fire for the past 5 years. I go to every home game every season. I love the Fire. With that said, the product is not good. Teams cannot make 10 passes in a row, all teams. I dont watch the games on TV because it is impossible for me to go from the EPL and La Liga games to then watching the Revolution against the Crew.

    Now the league is expanding and the player pool is going to be stretched even more. The cap needs to be raised a significant chunk when these new teams come into play. Its going to be harder and harder to get people to watch these games. MLS is not going to bring in new fans with the product that goes on the field right now.

    1. Fellow Fire season ticket holder. I also subscribe to the MLS online package and think it a great value.

      MLS fans are loyal and get out to the games while other sports often have tv viewers in mind first. No doubt that league quality is a issue but I have sense we are about to see improvement with that.

      In any event Google may well acquire a package but NBCSN and Fox need MLS for nothing more if only to fill a lot of open space on their networks. ESPN is less concerned but as we know their recent experience with the USMNT has been outstanding and you would have to think they would be reclutant to let them go.

      1. Well after the WC this summer ESPN isn’t going to be showing too much US national stuff because FOX has the rights to the men’s and women’s WC.

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