Editor’s note: Every week, World Soccer Talk Senior Writer Kartik Krishnaiyer shares his observations of watching world soccer on US television and streaming, as well as insights into the latest developments within the soccer TV media industry.
MLS CBA and its impact on media rights
Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) agreed between the MLS Players Union and the league last week, “Beginning in 2023 and 2024, MLS will increase player spending by an amount equal to 25% of the increased media revenue above the amount generated by the league in 2022 plus $100 million.”
The league’s current national and international media rights partnerships expire ahead of the 2022 season. Many questions will now have to be asked about what happens in the next rights cycle with MLS. Will Soccer United Marketing (SUM) continue to bundle MLS with US Men’s and Women’s National Team rights? The US Men have seen dwindling interest, attendance and TV numbers in English since the last negotiation in 2015. Do Spanish-language rights for the MLS and US bundle increase in value?
So what exactly the promise in the CBA made to players about media revenues means is to be determined. But one thing is for certain – by promising players a portion of the media revenues, MLS hopes to improve its public relations on the issue of SUM’s media deals, which as has been pointed out frequently by critics, does not directly trickle revenue down to lower divisions, grassroots soccer or the women’s game.
Time will tell how US Soccer views the possible new package. My understanding is the combination of USSF Secretary General Dan Flynn’s retirement, sinking TV ratings for the men’s team as well as the much-talked about negative Glassdoor reviews, have the USSF thinking about its long-term strategy and transparency more than any time in recent years. Even if the USSF rights continue as part of the SUM bundle, it is possible we get a level of openness and transparency about the rights fee and payments that we have not previously been exposed to.
TUDN “Soccer Saturday”
This past Saturday, TUDN had fifteen consecutive hours of soccer coverage. Two live Bundesliga matches and four Liga MX clashes were bracketed by Futbol Central, TUDN’s flagship soccer show. TUDN is often forgotten as an option for English-language viewers in the US, but the presentation style is entertaining and — even if you know just a little Spanish — it’s informative.
One major change in TUDN’s presentation from that of its predecessor network Univision Deportes is the growing number of studio programs done from Mexico instead of the United States. Most Liga MX broadcasts are now based out of Mexico City and not Miami as they previously were.
The development of TUDN in tandem with Televisa in Mexico has also helped over-the-air Univision improve their entire scope of coverage of Liga MX.
FOX improves on a big Bundesliga weekend
We’ve spoken extensively on the World Soccer Talk Podcast about our displeasure with FOX’s “mail it in” approach for matches on FS2. This week, however, FOX Sports kept its studio team of Kate Abdo, Alexi Lalas and Warren Barton for FS2 matches because of big late games on both Saturday and Sunday. It was a pleasant surprise and especially odd given FOX is on its way out as the broadcast partner for the Bundesliga in the United States.
The pre-packaged graphics associated with the bumper programming however kept indicating it was the “Bundesliga on FS1” rather than FS2.
The showdown between Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund that was televised on FS2 and TUDN provided an epic back-and-forth match with seven goals scored, three goals disallowed and several near misses. For those watching the game on FS2, former Middlesbrough and Fulham Goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer was outstanding in his co-commentary. It’s the first time I have taken note of Schwarzer as an analyst. His commentary about poor defensive work and other lapses of concentration were generally spot-on.
Bundesliga on ESPN
Former Scotland and Premier League midfielder Don Hutchison has emerged this season as ESPN FC TV’s resident go-to Bundesliga expert.
With the Bundesliga title race tighter than it has been in recent years, Hutchison’s versatility and ability to analyze the German league has been useful on the program, adding another layer of analysis to what the studio team in Bristol, as well as Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens provide. Though he is based in London, might ESPN use Hutchison next season on US broadcasts of the Bundesliga? Hutchison does work for BT Sport and Premier League productions, but should ESPN ever broadcast matches directly from the grounds in Germany, Hutchison would be a stellar choice of co-commentator or studio talent.
NWSL on CBS
CBS’ reported acquisition of NWSL rights sent ripples through the American soccer community last week. The broadcaster, who had shown little interest in soccer in the last thirty years outside of a single season broadcasting NASL, has now acquired two big properties in three months. Unlike the UEFA Champions League and Europa League that CBS will start broadcasting in August 2021, NWSL coverage will begin in two months.
What CBS will be able to provide NWSL is a window into the mainstream sporting and soccer culture in the US. Lifetime, which broadcast NWSL in 2017 and 2018 as part of the league’s equity deal with A&E, provided excellent production and a dedicated weekly match window. But Lifetime wasn’t a place sports fans were accustomed to turning to for matches. And even though it is one of the top rated networks on cable, the audience was different. CBS seems a more logical fit.
Both CBS over-the-air and CBS Sports Network’s summer programming lineup is weak. The over-the-air network’s one lucrative summer property is the weekly PGA Tour event. The summer golf schedule is mostly carried on CBS, though the two summer majors are on FOX and NBC respectively. The move of the PGA Championship to May and the shift of the tour schedule to end of August leaves several potential holes in the programming schedule. CBS’s other summer sporting properties are less lucrative, such as the Big3 Basketball league and Professional Rodeo.
With these gaps in CBS’ summer schedule in mind, NWSL being potentially given over-the-air network exposure during the summer months could lead to a big spike in TV interest following up nicely on the increase in attendance we saw late last season.
NWSL has, for several years, used Vista Worldlink as a producer for its matches. Vista is based near Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, which is just miles from a CBS Sports facility. Currently Jeremy St Louis and Thomas Rongen use the CBS Sports studios in Fort Lauderdale to tape a soccer segment for CBS All Access. I’d expect the current talent calling NWSL matches to use the CBS Sports studio in Fort Lauderdale for the matches not broadcast on linear television.
As for the matches on linear TV, the tried-and-tested team of Jenn Hildreth and Aly Wagner — who have paired for NWSL matches on three different networks (FOX, Lifetime and ESPN) — would be my top choice to lead CBS’ coverage.