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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