Major League Soccer and the United States Soccer Federation are set to announce an eight-year contract with ESPN and FOX Sports today at 1pm ET. The multi-network contract is said to be valued at $75 million a year between both networks as well as an added $15 million from Univision for an exclusive Spanish-language deal. MLS will have games broadcast on a weekly basis both on Fridays and Sunday nights with double headers to be broadcast starting at 5pm on Sunday nights on ESPN and FOX Sports 1.
The deal gives ESPN and FOX Sports an exclusive deal with the MLS and the USMNT until 2022. The deal is said to outline both networks sharing the USMNT games. And between all three networks are scheduled to broadcast about 125 MLS games a season according to the New York Times. The most important part for MLS in this deal will be the game a week windows featured on all three networks thus establishing a familiar place for MLS fans to watch their teams each week on three separate channels.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber outline to the TV execs what the league wanted in their new media contracts according to Sports Business Daily. Garber outlined what the MLS wanted to see in coming seasons with growth potential and game times changing to better accommodate their audiences. “We have games this season on six different days with 21 different start times,” said Gary Stevenson, president and marketing director of MLS business ventures. “That needed to change. We also wanted our matches to be on TV when kids who play soccer could watch them.”
ESPN was interested in the rights but said that they were not interested in holding exclusive rights. Both MLS and ESPN thought that FOX would be a good partner for the deal. ESPN and FOX have worked together to broadcast games from the NCAA football conferences Big 12, Pacific 12 and the Big East.
Despite low ratings, both networks were comfortable with the large price tag, both seeing MLS as a place for large growth. MLS is set to launch new teams in New York and Orlando with future teams being created in Miami and Atlanta within the next few years.
Following the final contracts being signed, the league will be turning to the players to settle a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Their current C.B.A. expires this season and the large price tag and increased exposure will definitely be a factor in the new agreement.
I personally think this is a step in the right direction for MLS and their fans. A lot of casual fans view the World Cup due to there being a lag in other more popular American sports. And if MLS does a solid job of advertising its league this summer during and after the World Cup, this could attract some of the more casual fans to viewing games on a regular basis, which will only be helped next season by the start of the ESPN/FOX/Univision MLS deal.