NBC Sports Group is no longer in the running to acquire the next round of MLS TV rights, which will begin with next season. According to a report tonight in Goal.com, sources are saying that the finishing touches are being made to the MLS rights deal, but NBC Sports is out.
The winning bidder of the MLS TV deal is expected to be announced next week at the MLS Draft. FOX is the favorite to acquire the rights in a deal that could include ESPN. Sources to World Soccer Talk revealed that FOX and ESPN were in discussions about sharing the rights in some capacity, which could include FOX sub-licensing some UEFA Champions League games to ESPN in return for FOX getting more MLS or USMNT games. However, nothing had been finalized as of press time.
Since 2012, NBC Sports has televised MLS games on NBC Sports Network (now NBCSN) as well as a small number of games on NBC. After acquiring the rights to the American top flight league, NBC significantly improved the production value and presentation of the league, including having talent do studio shows and commentate games on-site, in addition to producing additional programming.
Despite all of NBC’s efforts to elevate the presentation of MLS to US audiences, the TV ratings were dismal due to little interest in the league due to a combination of factors — poor quality of play, lack of authenticity and little relevance to soccer fans.
For the 2013 MLS regular season, MLS TV ratings on NBC were down 8% compared to the previous year, while they were down 29% for ESPN.
The 2014 MLS season will be the final year of NBC’s relationship with MLS.
Meanwhile, FOX is focused on acquiring more soccer TV programming with World Cup 2018 in mind. FOX already has UEFA Champions League and FA Cup rights as well as World Cup 2018 and 2022, and has acquired Bundesliga rights (beginning 2015) and European Championship 2016 qualifiers.