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Where does MLS go from here with their rights deal? WST Podcast

In the NEW episode, number 1420, Christopher Harris is joined by co-host Kartik Krishnaiyer to discuss several topics:

– Our thoughts about the Champions League & Championship playoff finals
– Why US sports networks need to invest more in on-site reporters
– How the incompetence of UEFA and French police was uncovered by power of social media
– Where MLS goes from here after Apple TV+ pulls out
– What it means to have Nottingham Forest back in the Premier League
– Why US soccer reporters need to do to a better job of educating readers about soccer culture
– Do more clubs go out of business overseas than the US?
– And we answer the questions from you, the listeners.

Listen to the show via the player above or via this link.

Launched in 2006, the World Soccer Talk Podcast is the longest running podcast on the planet. Every week, we share the latest news about watching soccer on television and streaming, in addition to discussing what we like and dislike, and featuring your questions and feedback in our Listener Mailbag segment.

HEAR MORE: Listen to our archive featuring hundreds of soccer interviews

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  1. Rob

    June 15, 2022 at 1:15 pm

    Re: promotion and relegation – there have been 6 different Supporters’ Shield winners in a row and 9 in the last decade (and no back-to-back winners since the 2011 Galaxy won their second in a row). C’mon, at least do a short google search on that before simply painting the different winners as merely a function of a cup competition. The reason that basically 2 or 3 european leagues get the eyeballs of the soccer-watching populace here is that the quality is higher, which is a reflection of the top clubs’ investment in their players, not Watford’s potential relegation at the end of a 38 game home and away schedule.

  2. locofooty

    June 14, 2022 at 12:05 pm

    Apple took it all!

    https //www sportsbusinessjournal com/Daily/Issues/2022/06/14/Media/MLS-TV-rights aspx

    “MLS and Apple execs said that they have not yet developed a price point for the service, but all MLS season-ticket holders will receive access to the package at no additional charge.”

    • Mercator

      June 14, 2022 at 12:17 pm

      Good shout! This is excellent (price point depending) as it includes EVERY GAME, including Leagues Cup, Playoffs and even MLS Next (seems like some games will be free, some on ATV+ and the rest on subscription). MLS gets $250m a year guaranteed plus additional depending on subscriptions, MLS to produce all of the games (surely they will do a better job than Fox or ESPN). This is perfect, the best I could have hoped for aside from giving ESPN+ everything.

  3. Bram Weiser

    June 8, 2022 at 8:46 pm

    Part of this episode dealt with the UEFA Champions League Final, and noted that CBS’s “studio” talent were kept in place at their perch, as Kate Abdo noted on-air, so they didn’t have first-hand knowledge of the goings-on outside.

    I recall the panelists giving credit to CBS for giving as much info as they could get, even so, such as by showing a video from social media some time after they first spoke of the delays that Liverpool fans were having in entering the stadium, and of UEFA’s explanation for those delays.

    However, I take some issue with that. While Kate Abdo & Co. said that THEY couldn’t leave their “studio” position, what about Peter Schmeichel & Jenny Chiu at their secondary perch or Guillem Balague and Jules Breech at their on-field position? Could one or more of them perhaps have gone outside for a report, and/or to gather information, even if it meant that they couldn’t get back inside for the game?

    Not only that, but, especially as Chris and Kartik spoke, as I recall, about how this wasn’t the first time that there were fan-related issues outside a UCL Final match, maybe this will lead CBS to have a correspondent outside the grounds in ’22-’23 (and maybe not only for UCL Finals) just in case something newsworthy happens again?

    Unfortunately neither of these ideas came up during the episode’s discussion, though I’d be interested to know Chris’s & Kartik’s thoughts about them, please, perhaps in an upcoming episode.

    Thanks again,
    Bram Weiser

  4. Edwin

    June 3, 2022 at 11:20 am

    Seems like MLS will end up making pretty well o this TV deal after all the drawn out press and some saying it will be a disaster deal. John Ourand reported on his podcast with Andrew Marchand there’s still a lot of moving pieces but in the end it’s looking like a 3x increase for MLS.

    That leads me to ask you and Kartik with that extra money they no longer have to give a piece to USSF, Knowing MLS structure with DPs Allocation money and U-22s in that environment what changes would you guys make. Add more stars go more in the U-22 direction.

    I’m curious what you guys would do if MLS went and said hey Chris, Kartik these are your only constraints DP Allocation money and U-22. We’re struggling to find the best path to make this all work we won’t interfere with what you come up with.

  5. Drew

    June 1, 2022 at 11:27 pm

    MLS is in a difficult situation. It won’t go out of business anytime soon, but it’s having trouble establishing itself as a major sports league in North America alongside the big 4. They way I see it is that MLS teams have for the most part successfully built passionate and loyal fanbases, which help create a gameday atmosphere that resembles the big leagues of Europe and Latin America. The problem is that those same fans who are really into their team for the most part couldn’t care less about the league as a whole. I’m definitely in this camp; I don’t consider myself an MLS fan, just a fan of the team I follow.

    The solution to this is difficult to pinpoint. I’m not sure that promotion/relegation can really move the needle; lower division teams also have super passionate fans, but they would never attract a national following. MLS will have to get really creative, because as you guys have mentioned they face stiff competition from European and South American teams. As much as I like parity, it might be time for MLS to remove their archaic salary cap rules and let the few ambitious teams there are shoot for the moon. Most MLS owners are very cheap and uninterested in building something special, which hinders the growth of the league and makes casual fans rightfully skeptical of the institution as a whole.

  6. dave

    June 1, 2022 at 3:07 pm

    Another good episode. I also enjoy the thoughtful comments from @Mercator and @Michael on the complexity of professional sports fandom in the US and implications for soccer
    MLS is a partnership whose shares are controlled mainly by very wealthy entities. It is naive to discuss pro-rel (or anything MLS has a say in) without considering perspectives and incentives of those entities. If pro-rel is NPV-negative for MLS’ current and potential shareholders, then it is very unlikely to be implemented regardless of any benefits it may create for the ecosystem
    You touch a bit on SUM and USSF. I have been happy to see USSF focusing more on “what is best for soccer in the US” while MLS focuses on “what is best for MLS shareholders”. Separating USSF rights from MLS/SUM is a good step. I hope to see continued sharpening of focus and minimization of misaligned incentives, conflict of interest, opacity, etc. As @disco_george notes, there is plenty of work to be done to strengthen soccer in the US

  7. Fechin

    May 31, 2022 at 7:29 pm

    I think the rights have to go to Paramount plus/CBS and Turner/Hbomax/TNT/TBS/TheCW for this to work. ESPN and FOX holds the product back. MLS needs a promotion and relegation system and merge with Liga MX. This will be good for the U.S. and Mexico.

  8. Edwin

    May 31, 2022 at 3:55 pm

    Michael I agree 100% with what you said it’s one of the hardest things to debate with folks who feel antagonistic to MLS they have to get real about the place of soccer in this country what we call huge ratings for the occasional EPL games barely breaking 1 mil on a single network or going ga ga over the very best two teams meeting in the Champions League Final getting what essentially equals a opening round NBA playoff Audience is meh.

    Folks like Kartik have this misplaced resentment at MLS because their teams and leagues in cities that are 4th 5th rate cities in terms of prestige and viability don’t have a chance to ascend to the top level. Well hate to break it to them they wouldn’t have that chance in ANY of the other Major US Leagues. It just wouldn’t happen.

    As you said we need to accept the 2 choices. We can either continue to mimic European sports culture diving into the hardcore Pro/Rel culture and eschew and alienate ourselves from this countries Sports Culture or we can attempt to build our own version of soccer culture uniquely distinct from the European game and grow the sport organically in our own way which is what MLS has attempted.

    The funny thing is MLS will get there eventually doing that model vs trying to emulate European culture as critics want it to be. As Michael said about the the other sports leagues fans molding into fans of those other Major Leagues over time it took a century 100yrs. MLS is only at 25+yrs give it another decade plus 10-15yrs and you will start to see that generational fandom Michael alluded to. Where his son and my son who grew up with MLS and watching it have kids of there own and all they know is MLS being here like I grew up knowing well NBA/NFL/etc is just here its one of our leagues.

    Funny thing is if you look closely at ratings and viewership you can already see the changes over the last decade. Look at the MLS viewership for games on NBCSN many were sub 100k (30-50k) compare that to now for even to a network like FS1 today there’s undeniable growth. Some will point to the ESPN numbers back then but ignore 2 key points ESPN/ESPN2 was in about 100m homes then vs 74m now and ESPN showed less games meaning the average skewed higher 20 gms or so vs 34 now. ESPN averaging 270-275k over 34 gms in 75m homes is more impressive than averaging 300k over 20 gms in 100m.

    • Yespage

      June 1, 2022 at 3:13 pm

      I think it is much more simple, as the National Team goes, goes the MLS. And the National Team wasn’t in the World Cup last time, and the team this year… finished behind Canada in the Octagonal. Our national football identity is via the Men’s National Team, and since sacking Klinnsman, that identity has plummeted.

      The MLS continues expanding, but seemingly it appears like a pyramid scam and/or tax dodge (see Patriots and Revs owner Bob Kraft, who gets to pay less in taxes over Patriots by writing off the Revs).

      The MLS still exists though. Which is saying something, but I think what the MLS is, verses what people (fans and owners) want it to become are not compatible. Don Garber was out of his mind thinking that the MLS had inflated in value like other sporting franchises. Despite the enduring of the MLS, it still doesn’t matter than much nationally. That isn’t putting it down, it is recognizing reality. The MLS is a niche league for a niche sport in America.

  9. Buckles

    May 31, 2022 at 3:48 pm

    You could see 3 or 4 year extension of the current deal for a little more money. Then, after the World Cup, perhaps the big payoff comes as well as new partners.

  10. Ra

    May 31, 2022 at 10:21 am

    Other major property being negotiated right now is Libertadores + Sudamericana. I don’t care about ESPN+ keeping MLS, but I would be very happy if they got Libertadores, and provide multiple language options as BeIn currently does.

    I noticed this week that Paramount+ also added Portuguese as an option for live games, similar to how you can choose Italian for Serie A.

  11. jason

    May 30, 2022 at 11:04 pm

    Question for next podcast…Do you think the heavy investment in La Liga is going to cause other properites to leave ESPN Plus since they no longer have money to bid? An example is UEFA International games.

    • Christopher Harris

      May 31, 2022 at 8:06 am

      Jason, I think we already answered that question in this podcast?

    • Michael

      May 31, 2022 at 8:08 am

      If you look at Disney’s books, they have money to bid…but they are choosing to spend it on other sports. NBC doesn’t have any interest in anything other than EPL. CBS is rumored to be bidding big money for Big Ten, Pac 12, and Big 12 football in the next 3 years. Fox is getting out of Club Sports to concentrate on National Sports. Unless Warner bids…there is nowhere else to go except for ESPN+. I think that you should pay attention to the Market company that is trying to get the Liga MX teams to together and agree to be under the same media rights for 20 years the same way they are doing in La Liga. If that happens, I guarantee that ESPN+ will go hard at that. They have been working hard to build their Hispanic base, if they were able to get the #1 viewed league in all of the United States and put them with La Liga they will pay big for that, and easily make every penny back. The problem is Mexican Owners don’t do anything as a group, and I doubt that they would do the right thing and pool their rights. It would be better for the good of the league…but I don’t see them agreeing. But I may be wrong. I don’t see the Bundesliga leaving. They are much more visible now that when they were on Fox. The French League is not up for Bids until 2024, and I am sure that they (ESPN+) will bid for the Champions League…but CBS seems to be making a good profit on it…I am sure they will not let ESPN outbid them…unless they are working in a partnership.

  12. Ra

    May 30, 2022 at 7:16 pm

    The challenge MLS faces is that their potential fan base needs to be cosmopolitan enough to care about soccer and non cosmopolitan enough to not prefer the big European leagues. It makes more sense to tune in to NFL ir NBA if you are looking for an authentic American sports atmosphere.
    Why would anyone outside of the cities that have a MLS team carry about it? The TV ratings show it clearly that that is not the case.
    I can speak for myself- I am more likely to watch a soccer match in Europe than in the US. When traveling in the US, I prefer to go to the ballpark, hockey, NFL or NBA.

  13. Mercator

    May 30, 2022 at 4:12 pm

    UK media are absolutely not fair or balanced when it comes to the French. Sky have done a full 180 from those terrible scousers booing the queen, to those terrible French peperspraying English children. But the French are an absolute mess and have been for a while now – check out the Saint Etienne fans rushing the field after they got relegated. It’s a riot – it’s happened several times this year at Saint Etienne and Marseille. It’s just not a country that is capable of effectively dealing with riots – it never has been. Liverpool have a reputation for a reason though – Hillsborough aside, Europeans remember Heysel. For a generation of footballs fans the club is associated with mass casualty events. Like when Lazio or Feynoord come to town, the assumption is it’s safer for most fans to watch at home. I don’t think that is the case with Liverpool anymore, and all the more reason the French should have been better prepared, but its not just people arbitrarily hating scousers or the EPL.

    The reason people care about the rich owner is because they recognize the alternative is exactly what you described – going out of business. The US doesn’t have that same sort of community attachment to professional teams – its just entertainment and in order to be sustainable it needs to make money. Your community teams are your university and high school teams, the “pro” team is 2 hours away and too expensive to really attend regularly. Soccer is not any different, and its not surprising “professional” teams struggle outside of the MLS. You don’t see any independent professional teams getting much traction in any other sport either. If people were serious about soccer in smaller communities and at a more grassroots level, they would pay a lot more attention and funding to mens high school and NCAA soccer. Many big universities don’t even have a mens team due to title ix, which is the only reason something like the USL is viable – its a replacement for what should be proper NCAA mens soccer. I would like Pro/Rel sure but its not what is holding back soccer in the US – we have to be realistic about level of interest in the sport and realize independent clubs are not like a high schools or colleges that can inherently rely on significant community support, funding, etc.

    • Michael

      May 30, 2022 at 5:54 pm

      @Mercator. Great point. It is not a process that is holding back (Pro/Rel)…it is culture. Soccer fans in the US have two options: 1. Realize that American culture is different than European and accept that to catch on to said American culture to try to build a unique version of the game that develops organically and uniquely separate from European culture that mainstream Americans well relate to and want to be apart of … or 2. Except the fact that Soccer is a niche sport in this country, and cater to that niche hard core fanbase and allow the base to grow by natural procreation over the decades in the same way that Football grew and took over as the most popular sport from Boxing, Horseracing, and Baseball. I am the wrong one to ask, because I don’t really follow MLS religiously. Sometimes I will watch a local Charlotte FC match with my son on the local feed…or once year actually make the track to Charlotte to see a game in person…but you are right, I don’t treat it with the passion that I treat College Sports. I only disagree with one of your statements. Pro Sports fanaticism in this country is regional…not national. Profession sports are by far the most passionate and the local passion in the big Eastern cities. In the South there is not as much cross over so the College Sports are bigger…but in the big Eastern cities is all the way the pro team. This grows stronger and stronger as you get closer to the East coast. I will agree that West Coast Pro fans are more laid back and casual…but once you get to the East Coast it is wall to wall 24/7 American Pro sports. For instance let’s take Any of the Cities on the I-95 Corridor…Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York City, Boston…they are just as fanatical and crazy about their professional sports as the craziest Liverpool or Man U fans in the UK. Take Boston right now with their Bruins that were in the NHL Playoffs, the Celtics that are in the NBA Finals, their Patriots that are Perennial one the most loved/hated team in the country…and the Red Sox which are one of the most popular teams world wide. They follow their teams all over the country on their road games, they have thousands of fans in the fan parks for those that can’t get tickets, and they wait on lines for hours to talk about their Sport on the radio 24/7. The Mid-Atlantic/Northeast I-95 corridor is the closest thing in America to UK when it comes to fan passion. There is however a huge difference. In UK there is not a competition for second place. There are large groups of fans for Rugby, Cricket, F1, and Golf in the UK….but they are clearly on a second tier to Soccer. For the most part, Soccer is the only big dog in town. In the US there are already four big dogs that have been there is some cases for more than a century. This is especially true that that I-95 corridor (which by the way is the most heavily populated portion of the United States). In that area, like everywhere else in the country save for the Big Ten and SEC colleges towns…NFL Football is king. Period. Many of those stadiums actually have jails inside the stadiums to house people that fight over their teams. But unlike other parts of the world Major League Baseball, NBA Basketball, and NHL Hockey are also huge and have a large base. What you have seen over the last 100 years that most (but not all) of these fans have molded together to be the same group of fans that support each one of the 4 as part of the same entity back to back as one ends to the other starting. The people in these Big Cities have grown up generation after generation with this in their DNA. There is not a lot of room for something new to be added into routine. MLS is only 25 years old. By the time MLS was created I already had my sports culture, and when I finally got into Soccer it was with the best of the best that I got hooked by…and it wouldn’t matter what MLS did, they would never be able to compete with those leagues because the quality of player was just flat out no comparison.

    • disco george

      June 1, 2022 at 2:46 pm

      I just finished the pod and came here to make the same point about American attitudes about owners, lol. Team owners can pick up and relocate their teams at any given moment — it’s happened over and over when an owner decides a particular market is no longer desirable, as our friends in Columbus can surely attest. It may not be an entirely healthy attitude, but it’s not there just because all Americans worship rich people or something weird like that.

      IMO, it’s a little disingenuous of Kartik to say that ‘all MLS fans don’t care about empty lower-league stadiums all over the country’. Many of us (at least those of a certain age) have had multiple teams come and go in our individual markets over our lifetimes. Nobody’s out here dancing on the graves of defunct clubs — we’re still insecure and worried that it’s going to happen AGAIN.

      A lot of the issues around soccer in the US revolve around the fact that the domestic game still feels really economically insecure. The pay-to-play (not just play, but have new customized jackets and bags, and go to 87 out-of-town tournaments, and do college camps, etc.) system is probably a bigger issue long-term than pro-rel in the professional ranks, but it’s also harder to argue about on the internet, so here we are talking about pro-rel every. freaking. week.

      • Mercator

        June 1, 2022 at 6:20 pm

        Pay to play is not unique to soccer either – baseball is just as bad, hockey even worse, and basketball moving in the same direction. You drive 3 hours to a game, get a hotel, get lunch on the road etc. Someone has to pay for that and if not the parents its the community or some rich benefactor – things niche sports rarely have in abundance. Football is the one exception probably because football isn’t as segregated by competitive ability (and really I have no idea why people think 12yr olds need to play elite competition to become elite). The best football players still play for their high school teams, running over “normal” kids who aren’t athletic freaks. You don’t see this in soccer, the best kids don’t play high school, they have segregated themselves into smaller, competitive, more expensive club leagues. Well obviously this is going to be more expensive than the high school team funded by taxpayers.

        In short – it still comes down to money. SOMEONE has to pay for all this stuff and if you aren’t latched on to an educational institution which can provide a guaranteed source of funding (and a guaranteed grassroots fanbase) then things are very difficult, from the U-10 leagues right up to the professional levels, in every sport except US football.

        MLS is going in the right direction with its academies which kind of address this problem, but its no where near enough and cannot scale at the level necessary. My city has 1 MLS team and their academy (just getting off the ground) – compare this to the 100+ high schools in the city with their own athletics stadium, a large number of them with capacities of 5k, 8k, 10k, 12k, etc. The newest one here cost $70 million. This is the level of resources being thrown into HIGH SCHOOL sports by the local community and taxpayers – this is the sort of support put behind soccer in every other country that is excellent at the sport. MLS, or some other independent pro team with 5,000 casual fans, isn’t going to cut it – you have to get communities EVERYWHERE involved at a relevant level and the only way to do that at the scale required is through the high schools and colleges.

        • Ra

          June 2, 2022 at 7:43 am

          By not having academies, the clubs are missing on a lot of potential revenues. It is a very significant source of revenues for SA teams.
          What makes it work for the teams in other pro sports is that they operate in a monopoly. Players don’t have many options but to participate in draft picks. Because soccer is global, the impact of the draft is very limited. You need to be mediocre or dumb to allow yourself to be traded like cattle, if you can go and negotiate with any club in the world directly.

        • dave

          June 2, 2022 at 2:40 pm

          @Mercator, good post. I think people are sometimes surprised by the passion and time and money in high school sports. Very dependent on where you live, but plenty of communities shut down Friday evening for high school football, pack large gyms for basketball games against division foes, etc. Taxpayers, often happily, fund the endeavor. If you grow up in an area like that, you get a lot of coaching and competition and visibility even if your family has very little money

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