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Clock ticking for MLS rights deal as local broadcasters concerned

Clock ticking for MLS rights deal

MLS Commissioner Don Garber set March as the date when he hoped to announce the new rights deal. Now, one month later, league executives appear to be no closer to making an announcement. With the new media rights deal scheduled to start in early 2023, the clock is ticking. And there are still several major issues to resolve.

According to World Soccer Talk sources, the delays are beginning to concern clubs. In particular, the local broadcasters attached to each team.

“Many years ago, we went to our clubs and said, all of your local deals need to expire by the end of the [2022] season,” Garber told reporters in December 2021. “All of your streaming deals need to expire. All of your data deals, all of your sports betting deals, everything that has a touch point with a consumer is all now in a package that we’re able to engage with traditional media companies that are transforming themselves digitally, to new media companies.”

At the time, MLS executives were bullish over landing a major deal. Subsequently, reports were that MLS aimed for a $300 million per year deal.

Since then, though, the MLS media rights deal has been falling short of expectations.

Concerns about the next MLS rights deal

A combination of factors have led to concern. First, World Soccer Talk has heard from several on-air personalities who worry about losing their jobs. They’ve received little to no communications from the league or regional sports networks about their future.

Second, there is a huge amount of uncertainty about how these local rights to MLS games will play out. Who will produce games? Will a streaming company such as Apple TV+ or HBO Max buy all the rights available, thus making local rights obsolete?

Third, the league is exploring having its own announcers call select games, according to our sources. That would be from a production studio that is centralized nationally. This would reduce costs and enable the league to ensure that all talent are “on message.”

Fourth, the fact that an announcement about the new MLS media rights hasn’t materialized is causing anguish. After all, it’s been nine months since the league met with FOX, Univision and ESPN to discuss renewing their deals.

MLS fans connect with local broadcasters

What is important to point out is that while regional sports networks are becoming antiquated, there is a close bond between the club’s fans and its local broadcaster. In most cases, the fans of local MLS clubs enjoy the broadcasts. The talent calling the games often have a connection to the local team. They know the team and the personalities. Ask any MLS fan about local TV coverage. For the most part, they’ll know the talent and will appreciate the broadcasts.

Centralizing the calling of games off a monitor from a sterile booth is not the same.

Meanwhile, the wait continues for MLS to complete its deal. As we end the month of April, the clock is ticking. Our sources continue to tell us that Turner Sports, ESPN, Univision and Apple TV+ are interested. However, there’s a ton of work to prepare for the 2023 season. That means hiring new talent, untangling the major issue of who will produce the games and educating the fans on all of the complicated viewing options. The race is on.

Photo credit: Getty Images via Icon Sportswire / Contributor

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35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. JP

    May 3, 2022 at 11:05 am

    No matterh who gets the MLS rights, they need to set a consistent schedule like the NFL does.

    We should know at a certain hour Saturday or Sunday all the local matches are happening around the league (say Saturday 4:30pm and 7:30pm) and then know what windows are for the “national” broadcasts (say Sunday 4pm and 8pm for example)

    Right now Fox could have a national telecast at any random time, ESPN telecasts on different days/hours week to week. No consistency. Even the NBA with games every day of the week has almost a set schedule for national broadcasts

    • Buckles

      May 3, 2022 at 6:07 pm

      Agree. That’s why Turner might be the best option bc they can offer that. But that assumes Warner/Discovery is bidding.

    • Lovac1

      May 3, 2022 at 8:01 pm

      I agree with the set time each weekend but that will be possble only with Apple tv+ or going with full streaming. They tried that with ESPN and Fox with Sundays 5 and 7 pm and it did not work. No TV network will schedule around MLS games. They use MLS to fill the gaps.

      • Buckles

        May 3, 2022 at 10:32 pm

        They can have a set time on TNT or TBS.
        FOX and ESPN didn’t give 5 and 7 enough time to generate ratings. Sunday is a tough time for scheduling, especially during the fall. Friday or Saturday may be better option.

    • Leo

      May 4, 2022 at 12:53 pm

      That sound difficult task to play everyone at the same time. It’s not like Europe. There are 4+ time zones in USA. Every team will find the best times to get more revenue from attendance.

      • JP

        May 4, 2022 at 1:50 pm

        Works for the NFL, everyone plays either 1PM or 4/4:30PM (EST) unless they’re a national telecast Thursday, Sunday, or Monday night.

        Even Europe with one time zone per country has multiple consistent windows. Italy for instance has around noon, 3PM (where would have concurrent matches going on), 6PM, and 8:45PM.

        MLS needs consistency, that is all.

  2. Ra

    May 2, 2022 at 10:54 am

    MLS is a joke. I was looking for a match to watch this weekend and ESPN had the Charlotte FC match front and center. I was like, ok, I will do them a favor and see what this team is about.
    And I got a blackout. What a joke. I am in the triangle, so at least 2h away from Charlotte. And they call this a home game. Even if we were talking about Real Madrid, I would not consider 2-2.5h away a home game. For a mediocre team, everything 20+ min is not home IMO.
    They should try and create a following BEFORE trying to explore fans. Before they have a solid fanbase, they should make it as easy as possible to watch a match, and as cheap as possible to lure people into the Stadium.

    • Rights

      May 4, 2022 at 8:49 am

      Did you bother looking at the team’s website?

    • Michael

      May 4, 2022 at 9:56 am

      Ra if you are in the Triangle all the Charlotte FC games are on WRAL+ 34.1 over the air Antenna if you are a Cord Cutter. It is on Spectrum if you are on Cable. If you don’t have an antenna setup, Another commenter below suggested to watch ESPN+ through the HULU app and it will let you get past the Blackout. We tried that the other day on the Carolina Hurricanes last regular season game and it worked! I will try that with Charlotte FC the next time that I don’t have access to OTA.

      • Michael

        May 4, 2022 at 10:57 am

        oh and by the way, the Blackout it for a region, not a city. Charlotte FC is the closest team. They are only 2.5 hours a way. Nashville is 5+ hours away. Atlanta is 5+ hours away, DC is 5+ hours away. The entire state of NC is Charlotte FC’s home area. Some of the black out rules are stupid. For instance like the ones for MLB. For the Triangle the home teams for Blackout are Baltimore Orioles & Washington Nationals. The reason being that Baltimore is 316 miles away and DC 356…but Atlanta is 407 miles away. So the DMV team is set up as the home teams. The problem is that MASN (the RSN that covers the two DMV teams) is not available on any Cable System in the area. This becomes a problem because 15-20% of the residents here are transplanted New Yorker/Tri-State residents whose main teams are the Yankees and the Mets. It is good for the most part to get most out of market games…but the 50 of so games that either one of the New York teams play against Baltimore or Washington are only available on Radio…that number increases to 75 if you include all the Chowder Heads for New England that are down here too that want to watch them play the Boston Red Sox. If Charlotte ever gets a team, it will be the closest and then all the DMV games would no longer be in black out range. For MLS I don’t know who was the home teams for blackout in the Triangle before Charlotte FC. Their blackout rules are not quite the same as MLB, but they are very similar.

  3. Amber

    May 2, 2022 at 7:14 am

    In Dallas all FC Dallas are televised on free over the air. The only FC Dallas games that are not televised are those on national television (ESPN, FOX, Univison)

  4. M

    April 30, 2022 at 10:47 am

    I would just like to be able to watch the MLS game I want. Local or not. I have every damn streaming service and yet struggle to find ….the Quakes game. WHAT A JOKE. Sure way nit to generate keep fans us to not let them see the game. Ask the NFL and the good old “blackout” rule.
    Why am I a ManU supporter? Because they televised their games in the early 2000’s.
    Simple stuff wake up MLS make deal where anyone with anything g can watch a damn game.

  5. Eddy

    April 29, 2022 at 10:48 pm

    If Turner Sports,ESPN,Univision,and Apple TV+ are interested and likely getting doing a deal with MLS. I’m no longer worried about the TV money. With a combination of those 4 or 3 depending if one out bids the other. MLS will get its money or close to it. So we should all move on from the worrying or talking about doom for MLS getting a bad TV rights fee.

    What I’m worried about is making sure they do many of the things we’ve all harped on. Like taking the time to find partners that are dedicated to the league, finding partners that will build shoulder programming around the games and give MLS a dedicated spot…. and Friday night games as I’m sitting here watching another Friday night rerun of “I almost Got Away With It” on AHC.

    • dave

      April 29, 2022 at 11:22 pm

      @Eddy, Liga MX de facto play-in game (for Mazatlan) is on TUDN right now. NWSL just kicked off the season on CBSSN.
      .
      To your broader point, consistent schedules during prime entertainment time is a strength of Liga MX. Friday night football (2 games) on TUDN; Saturday night football (3 games) on Univision often with one double-header on FOXD/ESPND or Telemundo; usually a noon and evening game on Sunday. Good idea for MLS and partners to deliver something like that.

  6. Robert

    April 29, 2022 at 10:20 pm

    Baffles me how a league with billionaire owners — some of whom must know the decision makers at the networks — can’t make a deal.

  7. Lawrence

    April 29, 2022 at 6:32 pm

    No surprise here. A 30 team league (or more) has a deluted talent pool and so you have parity. Not to mention playoffs rendering the regular season almost meaningless. The greed in awarding franchises has finally caught to MLS and a consistent quality product on the pitch is just not there to appeal to the casual American fan.

    • Roberto

      April 29, 2022 at 8:21 pm

      What they have in competitiveness. In Europe the same teams win almost every year. The MLS does have better run teams but often the Champs are not the same year after year.
      With so many big cities in a country of 350 million you have to have teams in many cities. MLS games are just as interesting as many European games. Look at the way Atletico Madrid plays, is that attractive football?

  8. Jasinho

    April 29, 2022 at 11:29 am

    I am real surprised that Turner and/or CBS couldn’t leverage the CW Network as part of a local rights deal in tandem with HBOMax or Paramount+ for the out of market element of the deal. Yes, I know the CW isn’t consequential by any stretch, but it is still over the air local TV that has zero conflicts with any other league that may very well fit the bill for local TV exposure that all the MLS clubs really need to grow long term.

    • Buckles

      April 29, 2022 at 12:56 pm

      I agree with you about the CW network. Would be a great opportunity.

      • John P. O'Donnell

        April 30, 2022 at 12:58 am

        I’ve been preaching this since they missed the March deadline. The CW is for sale and only has Primetime shows. They also have a streaming service already setup and it’s free.

  9. JP

    April 29, 2022 at 11:12 am

    “Our sources continue to tell us that Turner Sports, ESPN, Univision and Apple TV+ are interested”

    Surprising CBS/Paramount+ isn’t interested.

    • Ra

      April 29, 2022 at 10:05 pm

      Maybe they realized that NWSL has better audience than MLS? As far as American soccer is concerned, I prefer NWSL over MLS.

      • Ra

        April 29, 2022 at 10:10 pm

        If not audience, I am 100% confident that it has a much better ROI, especially with MLS’ current aspirations.

        • dave

          April 29, 2022 at 10:59 pm

          @Ra, I enjoy NWSL also. Challenge Cup has been fun and regular season just kicked off. NWSL benefits from a partner that makes most games easily available (several years ago there were a few games per month on Lifetime channel and that was it).
          .
          I suspect you are right about ROI, especially for the English-speaking market. Women’s sports seem in ascendancy and the next NWSL deal could get interesting. I think NWSL-CBS is a great pairing, so my default hope is that they renew (at a far higher rate than the rumored $1.5 million per year).

        • Buckles

          April 29, 2022 at 11:19 pm

          Not a fair comparison when you compare a game on cbs versus a game on fs1. An MLS game at that time on CBS would do just as well if not better.

          • dave

            April 29, 2022 at 11:37 pm

            @Buckles, for sure OTA and cable cannot be directly compared.
            .
            Caveat that it is very early in both 2022 seasons: the most-viewed NWSL game (two expansion teams in Challenge Cup on CBS OTA) drew 450k viewers and the most-viewed MLS game (Charlotte-Galaxy on FOX OTA) drew 475k

            • Ra

              April 30, 2022 at 7:45 am

              I suspect that the potential for NWSL is higher than MLS because more girls than boys practice soccer in the US. I started to watch NWSL because of my daughter that started practicing soccer recently.
              Also, as far as quality goes, NWSL is world class, while MLS is 2nd division level compared to European standards.

              • Eddy

                April 30, 2022 at 6:02 pm

                @Ra Thats a lot of wishful thinking on your part FACT is MLS has the bigger following by FAR and I say that as a fan of NWSL WAshington Spirit and DC United. There are ALOT more MLS fans in this country. Two things can be true at the sametime NWSL has potential obviously and MLS has way more fans and a bigger TV presence. Chris and Kartik weren’t being 100% with us when they were talking the NWSL numbers. Stuff like that is why they as they said get knocked for being Anti MLSby some. They skimmed over or didn’t address ALOT of context in a attempt to give NWSL some shine.

                Ra I also know from your previous post you’re not big on MLS so that likely plays a HUGE part into your opinion of ROI and stuff. End of the day businesses talk and ROI is simply ended when talking Sponsorships and revenue. MLS has 1.2b+ in yearly revenues and rapidly rising. NWSL is rising but there is levels .Numbers aren’t on the same scale at the moment or forseeable future. Just the reality

                • Yespage

                  May 2, 2022 at 4:38 pm

                  I’d say the NWSL lower fan base would lead to a smaller cost to purchase the rights. Meanwhile, the MLS is playing a sort of Ponzi scheme where they have new teams come in for hundreds of millions, while many (most?) existing teams don’t make a profit, in almost a sort of crazy capital gains deduction gameplay, where owners like Bob Kraft use the MLS to save on taxes for the Patriots.

                  This TV deal is big, because lots of services are scrambling to get programming. Yet, the MLS “deal” is taking a while to come together and the MLS need this deal. Without TV money, this league folds faster than a… well… folder. But it is bigger than that. Because the MLS has been selling this product to new owners. A flat TV deal would be devastating to any future expansion at the price tag the MLS needs.

                  And in the end? Is the MLS really worth that much money in a media world saturated with content? I think the MLS is finding out, they aren’t worth what they thought they’d be worth. Which is incredibly disappointing, though maybe not too surprising as the lack of USMNT success in nearly 8 years has deflated interest in soccer nationally.

              • Mercator

                May 2, 2022 at 9:57 am

                I suspect NWSL will have the same problem as the MLS – there will be better Women’s leagues in Europe and the teams will come tied to established football brands (Barcelona, Arsenal, etc.) Everyone knows what champions league is, or who Chelsea is, there is no work involved to follow women’s European teams so tightly modeled on the mens teams.

                They really should have just tied the NWSL to the MLS and forced MLS owners to heavily subsidize their women’s teams. I think NWSL blew their first mover advantage and are now going to be outdone by the usual European suspects.

                • dave

                  May 2, 2022 at 10:35 am

                  @Mercator, good point, Europe is interesting as they build out the women’s game. Enormous crowds for some UCL knockouts this year. I think FA WSL has a soft salary cap of around half of revenue, so great potential for a positive snowball
                  .
                  It is notable that quite a few USWNT stars fizzled out when they played in Europe. I suspect top European women’s teams might already dominate in NWSL. In both Europe and US, women’s club soccer median salaries are perhaps $40,000 and some players take second jobs. Early days, lots of upside, fun to follow as the women’s game builds

    • Michael

      April 29, 2022 at 10:51 pm

      @JP CBS is currently bidding to get the Saturday 3:30 pm EST portion of the Big Ten Football package. That deal is supposed to be announced by Memorial Day. If they don’t get that deal, I am sure they will put their name in the pool. That being said, I think I have to agree with Ra…I enjoy the NWSL on TV more. Now, going to the Charlotte FC games in person is Amazing, but I have to admit that I haven’t watched any of them on TV.

    • Eddy

      April 30, 2022 at 6:12 pm

      Not too me if you’re still over on Big Soccer I posted over a year ago John Tannenwald reported on Jason Davis The Best Soccer Show Podcast that everyone he knew and spoke to said the ESPN deal was all but done, also that Turner/Univsion(of course) and CBS was interested but the only thing with CBS he was hearing that CBS viewed MLS as more of a streaming property and MLS wanted more of a TV presence with CBS.

      Thats very likely why CBS has no interest as they couldn’t come to a agreement. Apple is likely offering to pay WAY more than notoriously financially conservative CBS was offering.

      At the end of the day after all the opinion articles MLS likely gets what they were looking for or closer than some of the absurdly low amounts talked about like $150m yr which regardless of the mental gymnastics some engage in to make that made sense just never made sense with La Liga getting $175m yr with historically lower ratings.

      Sometimes if it just doesn’t make sense we gotta go with common sense.

  10. Ramses Salmeron

    April 29, 2022 at 10:32 am

    Joe Tutino is the best soccer play by play in the league and it would be a down right travesty if he doesn’t stay as the voice of the LA Galaxy!

  11. locofooty

    April 29, 2022 at 10:26 am

    Reality has sunked in…

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