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  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.”
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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