MLS the latest to cash in on television rights market

(David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)
(David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)

In just a few hours, MLS commissioner Don Garber and U.S. Soccer Federation CEO Dan Flynn will step up to a podium and announce a new media rights deal for the MLS and U.S. Soccer. 

The terms of the deal with new joint partners ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision have already been widely reported, with MLS set to make a staggering five times the amount of its current arrangement with NBC Sports. Averaged annually at $90 million per year, the league will garner more than NBC Sports dished out to broadcast the English Premier League in the U.S.

Just as important as the influx in revenue for MLS is the increased exposure that’s believed to be a part of these new partnerships. For as long as the league has been televised, it has been treated by its broadcast partners as a lower-rate property, and it’s already been down that road with ESPN and Fox (during the days of Fox Soccer Channel). MLS has never been able to attract a television audience on the level of the other major professional sports — paling even in comparison to the NHL — and thus is typically buried on the cable guide. SBJ outlines how the terms of this deal make it different from years past:

The new deals include the rights to U.S. men’s national team matches and call for consistent days and times in the national programming of MLS match telecasts, something the league has never had before. Univision will have exclusive MLS broadcasts on Fridays, while ESPN and Fox Sports 1 will present games back-to-back on Sundays.

For ESPN, the investment in MLS is pocket change compared to its billions spent on higher profile rights like the NFL or College Football. After bowing out of the World Cup after 2014 and losing the English Premier League rights to NBC Sports, broadcasting the MLS makes sense to a network that has invested substantially in soccer. The deal also enables ESPN to continue to maintain a presence with U.S. Soccer viewers, being that rights to broadcast the U.S. men’s national team are included. Fox, with current rights to the UEFA Champions League and the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, has always been a welcome home for soccer coverage. Broadening its portfolio with MLS is a natural decision.

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