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Cindy Parlow Cone talks US Soccer media rights

Recently, the United States Soccer Federation made its decision to bring the US Soccer media rights back in-house.

For the past 17 years, US Soccer bundled those rights with Major League Soccer (MLS). This happened via the MLS marketing entity, Soccer United Marketing (SUM).

World Soccer Talk had the opportunity to speak with Cindy Parlow Cone, the President of US Soccer. Cone answered questions regarding the plans for the Federations’ media rights. Also, Cone discusses the possibility of adding more than just men’s and women’s national team matches to the package.

Cindy Parlow Cone and US Soccer media rights

World Soccer Talk: We have a situation where you chose to bring the media rights back internally to the federation. You have de-linked them from Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing. So, with MLS & SUM currently talking to potential partners about their package, what are your plans? What’s the process now for selling the rights? Will you retain another outside media firm, Wasserman, IMG or Octagon perhaps, or will these rights be kept in-house? 

Cindy Parlow Cone: We’re going to keep it in-house. That was the whole point of bringing the rights back into the federation.

WST: Have you felt out potential media partners yet about the package? Obviously, we’ve seen a ton of money thrown at soccer properties of late. That could be ESPN with LaLiga or NBC with the Premier League. Additionally, what we expect to see with MLS in the near future.

CPC: The demand for soccer content and the rights have never been greater in the US than they are now. I think US Soccer is in a great position. Our US Women’s National Team continues to be the gold standard globally.  And, our US Men’s National Team continues to build momentum and play well. Couple that with the exponential growth in the sport’s popularity as we head into 2026. Not to mention, the exciting stuff we’re doing with our extended national teams and youth national teams. We’re looking for a [media] partner that has a broader vision than just our national teams because US Soccer is a lot bigger than just that. I can tell you interest has been very strong and we’re getting close to finalizing both English and Spanish language partners.

Ideas for packages

WST: Have you given any thought to splitting packages, potentially doing separate USMNT and USWNT media deals? 

CPC: It’s going to be one package, I just think this makes the most sense in terms of the total number of games. We’re not like an MLS or NWSL playing a consistently large number of games throughout the year. So, it makes the most sense for us to package those two together.

WST: Is there a preference for a media partner that covers domestic soccer already? Obviously CBS covers NWSL, FOX, ESPN and Univision cover MLS and ESPN also covers USL. 

CPC: We’re letting the process run its course. We know what is important for us, what we’re looking for in a partner, and yes experience with good soccer coverage makes sense. But that is not all for us, we want to make sure the values of a partner align with ours, they share our vision for where the sport is headed. We’re not just men’s and women’s national teams, US Soccer is a lot more than just that. So a lot goes into this decision and we’re getting close to finalizing our partners soon and we’re super excited about where things are going.

Individual competitions

WST: What about She Believes Cup? Are we going to see that tournament continue during the next media rights cycle? 

CPC: She Believes has been a great platform for everyone, the growth we’ve seen in that platform even during COVID. It’s now more than a tournament. We have a whole summit that goes along with the tournament and the event is now bigger than ever. It will be part of the media deal.

WST: She Believes, I agree that it is great. In fact, the whole package around the matches including the seminars and summit is very useful for us that cover the sport. So let’s talk about the US Open Cup. I speak regularly to adult amateur teams, and lower division professional sides in NISA and USL, that would like that competition to be more visible. A view exists that promotion isn’t strong enough for that competition. Is it possible that the US Open Cup could be part of any media rights deal? 

CPC: Yes, the Open Cup is part of what I am talking about. There is a lot more that goes into this than just national teams. It’s obvious, everyone knows the men’s and women’s teams are the leaders in this package but US Soccer has much more to offer and the US Open Cup is one of those things.

Future plans

WST: We don’t yet know what FIFA is going to do in terms of 2026 World Cup Qualification, but assuming that the US men qualify automatically, do you envision a tournament along the lines of She Believes Cup on the men’s side, maybe in 2025 even if it is just once? It is something that could bring some additional value to potential rights holders. 

CPC: Yes, for us leading into 2026 and we’ve been talking to the media partners as well as the technical staff and commercial staff on our end to formulate the best plan to go forward with that. You’ll be hearing more about that possibly soon.

Analysis by Kartik Krishnaiyer

Last year, after close to two decades of linkage with MLS media rights via SUM, the US Soccer Federation announced they would de-link their rights from MLS and SUM. The previous arrangement guaranteed the Federation a flat payment of close to $30 million each year, a payment that multiple sources have told me was critical to funding the USSF’s operations without interruption.

In delinking the rights, the USSF has gambled on itself. President Cindy Parlow Cone’s decision to move ahead without SUM implies a feeling that the federation’s properties, which include the US Men’s and Women’s National Teams, are worth more on the open market than the $30 million received annually from SUM. US Soccer’s quest for a broadcast partner may very well result in a situation where MLS and the USMNT and USWNT are competing against each other on different networks, limiting cross-promotional opportunities which have served both the USSF and MLS well the last two decades.

High stakes year for U.S. Soccer

The gamble is likely to pay off. Over the past two decades, the growth of the sport in the United States has seen record fees paid by broadcasters for both LaLiga and the Premier League. MLS is likely to net a record fee as its rights will be sold in the next month, and the USSF is optimistic of cashing in on this recent spending spree. With the continued success of the US women, and the US men co-hosting a FIFA World Cup in 2026, the timing appears right to sell the properties without bundling.

The Federation has also decided not to partner with another media agency and instead will keep its media rights in-house. This effectively means the federation is on its own, selling the media rights to properties it owns without bundling outside properties or retaining the expertise of an agency. The net effect of this is that the federation is flying on its own, for the first time its modern history. Prior to the close to twenty year relationship with SUM, US Soccer partnered with IMG.

Current U.S. Soccer President, two-time Olympic Gold medalist and 1999 FIFA World Cup champion Cindy Parlow Cone is seeking re-election against Carlos Cordeiro, who was U.S. Soccer President from 2018 through 2020. A decision will be reached next month whether it’ll be Cone or Cordeiro to lead US Soccer into the future.

World Soccer Talk reached out to Carlos Cordeiro to request an interview, but the candidate failed to respond to our request.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Jasinho

    February 15, 2022 at 1:34 pm

    How about if the US, Mexico, and Canada could do what Qatar and Russia has done previously and have some centralized friendlies with the UEFA nations during the WC Qualification process, specifically with those nations in a five team group in the qualifiers stage? I suppose that would be adequate preparation for the World Cup and take up several dates on the calendar.

    Until I’ve read that the US Open Cup may be included within the package, I wasn’t too certain how well this deal would take off, that would definitely give this deal a jump.

    I think CBS would do a good job with these rights as I do rate their CONCACAF coverage of the world cup qualifiers.

  2. Ollie

    February 15, 2022 at 10:31 am

    Grant Wahl reported months ago that CBS Sports (US) is the favorite to land rights to USMNT & USWNT friendlies in 2023-2026.

    [CBS Sports (Mexico) on Paramount+ (Mexico) is getting ready to launch with Premier League in August 2022 so we need to use CBS Sports (US) to distinguish from CBS Sports (Mexico).]

    That would allow CBS Sports (US) to control ALL USWNT US rights including CONCACAF W Championship (WC & Olympic qualification) in Monterrey, Mexico in July 2022.

    The USMNT friendlies in 2023, 2024 and 2025 aren’t worth much. Only the ones in mid 2026 leading up to the men’s world cup are worth something.

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