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MLS bullish about next TV rights deal as D-Day edges closer

As the clock runs down until Major League Soccer makes a decision on its next TV deal, MLS executives are buoyant after their recent positive news concerning MLS TV ratings as well as broadcast plans for the MLS playoffs.

In the meantime, current rights holders FOX Sports, ESPN and Univision have all completed their discussions with Major League Soccer regarding whether they’re interested or not in the next TV rights deal. Now that their window of exclusivity has ended, discussions have continued with a wide range of other broadcasters who have also expressed an interest in the league’s content. Even though the new MLS TV deal doesn’t begin until 2023, indications are that a decision will be reached within the coming weeks.

That new deal will include packages that combine local, out-of-market and national games.

World Soccer Talk recently spoke with Seth Bacon, Senior Vice President, Media at MLS & SUM, to discuss the feeling within Major League Soccer headquarters, as well as the advantages that the league has that differentiates it from other sports leagues.

First things first, Bacon looked at the near-term numbers:

We think we’re going to finish the year strong and have a great year, if not one of the best ones ever from the viewership standpoint.

We’re at the right point now where we’re taking that next major leap forward from a viewership and engagement standpoint.

When asked about his level of confidence going into the next MLS TV rights deal, and whether it could be the biggest in the league’s history, Bacon said:

I think we’re really excited about the growth we have right now. We think we’ve got a really compelling product on the field. We think the work we have done from a rights standpoint [makes] sure we can go to market with a really compelling package of rights. We believe we’re in a very strong position.

Currently, ESPN+ is a major distribution method for the majority of MLS games to viewers nationwide. At the same time that ESPN+ continues to expand its offerings to sports fans, other streaming platforms such as Paramount+, DAZN, Amazon Prime and HBO Max are acquiring rights to grow the sports content they have available.

We asked how Major League Soccer is positioned to capitalize on the growth of digital streaming.

We’ve got the youngest fanbase in North American sports. We have a very tech-savvy digitally-native fanbase. And a very unduplicated fanbase. You can’t access our fans by getting other properties. We have a very unique set of fans who consume our product whether on linear television or digital.

When you look at the metrics that really matter (Gen Z, multi-cultural, tech-savvy), Major League Soccer has the best metrics across the board in all those areas. When you think about the way the world is shifting from a media standpoint, and how consumption habits are going to change, our sport is perfectly positioned for the next evolution of how people consume live sports.

We are bullish on our prospects for the future because we know our consumers are ready, willing and able to consume our content anywhere, anytime and on any platform – linear, digital, any device — and it’s exciting to think about what the future could bring.

That future is almost here. What broadcasters and streaming services acquire the rights to Major League Soccer next will go a long way to helping the league grow.

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28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. José Cerrato

    September 17, 2021 at 12:17 am

    @Ra No, no tendré comisión del nuevo contrato televisivo de la MLS. 😎

  2. JP

    September 16, 2021 at 9:48 am

    @Ra, hahahaha. At least the username makes it obvious

  3. Ra

    September 16, 2021 at 9:39 am

    @Sinclair.
    *Sinclair, and ONLY Sinclair, can destroy the MLS and bring the relegation process to a new, MLS 2.0 league.
    But having no skin in the game, no, I don’t mind either way.

  4. Ra

    September 16, 2021 at 9:36 am

    @JP See the posts above. I guess we found our first confirmed mole… 🙂

  5. Yespage

    September 16, 2021 at 9:24 am

    Sinclair and only Sinclair don’t actually have a streaming service right now. Nor will their streaming price be remotely close to the price of ESPN+ or Paramount+ or Peacock, and for much less content. Sinclair is a baby compared to Comcast, Disney, and Viacom (who owns Pluto by the way).

  6. locofooty

    September 16, 2021 at 9:22 am

    nice advertisement ^

  7. Sinclair wuz here

    September 16, 2021 at 9:02 am

    Like it or not, Sinclair, not WarnerMedia/Discovery, not ESPN, not FOX, not CBS, not NBC, is the ONLY US media compaany that can offer MLS EVERYTHING all by itself:

    1. A national all-sports linear TV network that is available via free-to-air broadcast and free-to-air streaming: Stadium

    2. Regional sports networks coast-to-coast in EVERY MLS market:

    Bally Sports West (Los Angeles)
    Bally Sports Southern California (Los Angeles, current TV home of LAFC)
    Bally Sports San Diego

    Bally Sports Arizona

    Bally Sports Southwest (Dallas)

    Bally Sports North (Minnesota)
    Bally Sports Wisconsin

    Marquee Sports Network (Chicago)

    Bally Sports Kansas City
    Bally Sports Midwest (St. Louis)
    Bally Sports Indiana

    Bally Sports Ohio
    Bally Sports Great Lakes

    Bally Sports Southeast (Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte)
    Bally Sports South

    Bally Sports Florida
    Bally Sports Sun

    YES Network (New York City)

    Assuming Sinclair will buy the NBC Sports regional networks (Sinclair is currently negotiating to buy them from Comcast), Sinclair will own these RSNs:

    NBC Sports Boston
    NBC Sports Philadelphia
    NBC Sports Washington
    NBC Sports Chicago
    NBC Sports Bay Area/NBC Sports California (San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento)
    8% of SportsNet New York (SNY)

    Assuming also that Sinclair will buy the AT&T Sports regional networks (which AT&T definitely wants to sell), Sinclair will also own these RSNs:

    AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh
    AT&T SportsNet Southwest (Houston)
    AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain (Denver)
    AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain West (Salt Lake City, Las Vegas)
    40% of ROOT Sports Northwest (Seattle, Portland)

    That means:

    * Sinclair, and ONLY Sinclair, is in position to buy ALL US TV rights, national, regional in market, and out-of-market MLS is selling

    * Sinclair, and ONLY Sinclair, is in position to package live and on-demand video to EVERY MLS match to sell DIRECT TO CONSUMER via the yet-to-be launched “Bally Sports” App for $20-$25 month. The “Bally Sports” app will integrate live video with pre-match and in-match sports betting where permitted by law

    * Sinclair, and ONLY Sinclair, will NOT have incur a single penny of additional production cost or talent travel cost for national MLS TV broadcasts, as Sinclair can simply put a regional broadcast on its free-to-air all-sports linear TV network Stadium (which is also available FREE on Roku TV & Pluto TV)

  8. jason

    September 16, 2021 at 8:23 am

    MLS LIVE was pretty darn good. Bring that back!

  9. Chris Guardiano

    September 16, 2021 at 2:33 am

    @UnitedFan 3478 agreed CBS is miles ahead of Fox in terms of production values and treating the game with respect. Their NWSL coverage is excellent despite most of the matches being on Paramount+. They will do the same with MLS.

  10. Ra

    September 15, 2021 at 2:11 pm

    @Jose Cerrato Will you get a commission?

  11. locofooty

    September 15, 2021 at 2:06 pm

    VPN is your friend to avoid paying those pesky RSN’s.

  12. José Cerrato

    September 15, 2021 at 1:06 pm

    Espero que la MLS mínimo logre $300 millones anuales en su nuevo contrato de TV, y que no firme por 8 años, que lo haga por 5 años de contrato.
    📺 ⚽️ 🇺🇸

  13. El jefe

    September 15, 2021 at 1:03 pm

    I’m not sure hedging your bets on Gen Z is such a good idea as they have the lowest amount of interest in sports in generational history by a staggering margin. MLS has always done an awful job of marketing from the very start.

  14. Ra

    September 15, 2021 at 12:06 pm

    @Mercator That’s right! I heard about these bastards on John Oliver’s show. It is a very entertaining piece. Check it out.
    ‘”John Oliver blasts Sinclair for making local TV news anchors recite a speech about ‘false news’ like ‘members of a brainwashed cult'”

  15. Mercator

    September 15, 2021 at 11:47 am

    Sinclair is a broadcast company that owns a bunch of local channels around the US, and notably they bought the Fox Sports Regional Sports Networks and promptly got them taken off every TV provider but AT&T and a few cable companies. So half the country cannot watch their local NBA, MLB and NHL teams, along with some others like MLS and college teams. They are not in my MLS market and I don’t watch hockey or baseball really. Like any red-blooded, god-fearing American NBA fan, I pirate the games. Before I sorted that out, I just didn’t watch as I’m not really that big of a basketball fan either. Anyway, Sinclair has run these RSNs, and the fan base of many local teams, into the ground. Now they want to offer a streaming product for $20+ a month, which is comical when ESPN+ is about to offer all out of market NHL games (in addition to everything else) for $5 a month. This streaming product will be awful no doubt, and Sinclair might be the one company hated more than Comcast. It would be suicidal for the MLS to go with Sinclair for any new rights deal. They shouldn’t be let into the room, regardless of how much they are offering. I can’t even believe someone would suggest them the idea is so offensive and self-destructive.

    Anyway, local and out-of-market on ESPN+ is a must, anything else will hurt interest and availability. For the national games, I don’t really care as I don’t NEED to see Seattle-Portland or the Los Angelii play again, so I usually prefer the out-of-market non-national games since the multicast makes it easy to pick one of several and you get to see a more diverse set of teams. Going with anyone but ESPN+ ruins this. Nothing against CBS and they would have nice continuity with their CONCACAF and NWSL broadcasts, but their app doesn’t have a pause button, let alone multicast. If they could fix that though then they might be a better option than ESPN actually. NBC would not be great but to be honest I would trade EPL on ESPN if it meant MLS on NBC and the Peacock. Turner would be interesting, I could see TNT/TBS doing a good job generally with the MLS, and then Amazon or Paramount+ taking the local/out-of-market rights. Fox an absolute disaster, Sinclair I will not acknowledge again,

  16. Ra

    September 15, 2021 at 11:44 am

    @Sinclair. No, thank you. Lucky me, I also don’t care for MLS. So-oo much great football out there, why would I bother with something like RSNs?

  17. Sinclair wuz here

    September 15, 2021 at 11:41 am

    @Ra:

    Sinclair also owns a free-to-air broadcast all-sports TV network Stadium, in addition to owning the Bally Sports regional networks (formerly known as FOX Sports Net).

    Sinclair offers MLS a 1-stop-shop, with both National distribution (Stadium) and regional distribution (Bally Sports regional networks, which could also include the NBC Sports regional networks and the AT&T Sports regional networks if Sinclair were to buy them out), plus a planned “Bally Sports” over-the-top app.

    Also note that Sinclair will NOT need to spend extra production costs for any match that were to air on Stadium, as Sinclair can simply route the Bally Sports regional feed straight through to Stadium.

    Basically, Sinclair is attempting to put the old “FOX Sports Net” system of regional sports networks back together again.

  18. Ra

    September 15, 2021 at 10:48 am

    If they define their audience ‘tech-savvy’ and decide to go with one of these RSNs, they are begging for problems with ‘ alternative viewing methods’. Correct?
    They can’t even claim they were unaware of it.

  19. Ra

    September 15, 2021 at 10:45 am

    Sinclair? Is this a channel? Lucky me, never heard of it. 🙂

  20. JP

    September 15, 2021 at 10:43 am

    @Mercator @Yespage, Bally’s on screen graphics make games unwatchable. Saw some NHL on there through the limited out of market ESPN+ telecasts and it’s horrifying.

  21. Mercator

    September 15, 2021 at 10:37 am

    Sinclair would be suicide for the MLS. I don’t think I would watch another game.

  22. Yespage

    September 15, 2021 at 10:36 am

    Bacon’s second quote is interesting as it spends a few sentences saying almost nothing at all, other than 1) their fan base doesn’t watch linear TV, so 3) the the MLS is in good shape. 2) is left undefined.

    Regarding Sinclair, they are pretty close to evil and trying to monopolize regional locals and sports coverage and make people pay a fortune for primarily 24/7 informercials with occasional sports programming.

  23. Sinclair wuz here

    September 15, 2021 at 10:28 am

    I expect Sinclair Broadcast Group, majority owner of the Bally Sports regional networks and part owner of YES (New York) and Marquee Sports Network (Chicago), to be a major player in the next MLS TV deal.

    Note that Sinclair:

    1. Has put in a bid for the NBC Sports regional networks in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco. Comcast/NBC wants to get out of the regional sports network business NOW and Sinclair is the only logical buyer.

    2. Is the logical buyer for the AT&T Sports regional networks (which include 40% of ROOT Sports Northwest in Seattle/Portland in addition to full ownership of regional sports networks serving Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Houston and Pittsburgh.)

    Sinclair is looking to put all its regional sports network on an over-the-top app for a subscription fee of $20-25/month.

  24. JP

    September 15, 2021 at 10:20 am

    @Mercator, that is the dream scenario for a fan of any local league. Access to local, national, and out of market all on one service!
    The NFL is closest since the majority is available over the air (plus Sunday Ticket for all out of market). The rest, it’s a jumbled mess of various national networks, local RSN’s, and extra for a “league pass” type service if you want it all.

  25. Mercator

    September 15, 2021 at 10:00 am

    “That new deal will include packages that combine local, out-of-market and national games.”

    Local and out-of-market games to ESPN+ please! National I don’t really care as much,

  26. James Bodker

    September 15, 2021 at 9:33 am

    Remove me from your lisr. GO AWAY.

  27. UnitedFan 3478

    September 15, 2021 at 9:01 am

    I think it should go to CBS

    Because CBS has a ton of CONCACAF, and they would be better than Fox

  28. Ra

    September 15, 2021 at 8:16 am

    NBC can have this one. Don’t mind.

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