Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Fans in MLS markets were either unable to watch the MLS 2012 Champions LA Galaxy's ring ceremony and banner unveiling, or were forced into only one language option.
MLS is a trilingual league, and that's a difficult balance to maintain. Just about every market needs both English and Spanish broadcasts, while Montreal needs French and English. For the most part MLS is able to maintain this balance, but recently there has been an issue with national broadcasts in Spanish.
Univision has been a partner with MLS since the beginning. Recently this has meant putting matches on cable network Galavision, with a focus on teams and players of interest to the Hispanic market. 2012's schedule (link) was heavy on Rafa Marquez' New York Red Bulls and Chivas USA. Galavision broadcasts didn't trump local broadcasts, but they would cause a blackout on MLS Live.
"We have a great partner in Univision," Don Garber said to a media scrum on Sunday, "as important to us as any other both in terms of the money they paid for those rights, and also for the market they can reach. This is the first time that we've really gone out and given them a great game to try and support that relationship."
The spanish broadcast of MLS Cup 2012 was handled by Telefutura, with the English broadcast handled by ESPN. This was after two years of MLS Cup's Spanish broadcast being on Galavision, and it attracted 58% more viewers than the previous year (link). Over the offseason Telefutura was rebranded as UniMas, and planned to increase its sports offerings in an effort to go after millenial males. Men of an average age of 28 just so happens to be MLS' specialty.
So this year, the slate that previously had been on Galavision was moved to UniMas. UniMas picked up a once a week package of MLS games, and to launch the whole effort the LA Galaxy's season opener would be broadcast on Univision which hadn't happened in quite some time (link). Yes the broadcast would be in Spanish only, but MLS' champion would be available across the country over the air.
Sometime between that initial announcement and first kick, the match was quietly moved to UniMas. Univision is a truly national network, but there are MLS cities without UniMas affiliates. For example, Seattle doesn't have a UniMas affiliate. No UniMas affiliate in Ohio. Nor is there one in Missouri.
Time Warner Cable Sportsnet wasn't originally going to broadcast the LA Galaxy's home opener, when it was going to be on Univision, but a few days before the home opener it was announced that Sportsnet would carry the match locally.
DirecTV hasn't rebranded Telefutura yet, and only includes it in Spanish packages. Dish Network only has the channel in it's third pricing tier. Since MLS rules make UniMas broadcasts an automatic blackout (link), this means MLS fans with MLS Live in major markets couldn't even watch the match in Spanish. They simply couldn't watch it.
NBC Sports had similar issues when they rebranded from Versus, there were carriage disputes with major carriers and there are still customers that don't have NBC Sports on the same tier with ESPN and ESPN2. MLS could have put the Galaxy's home opener on the ESPN family, had a ring ceremony on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes. Instead they throw Univision a bone and Univision stuck the match on a channel still trying to find its feet.
The LA Kings began their season on NBC, the MLB champions open up their season on ESPN. Last year the LA Galaxy received their championship rings on KDOC (and MLS Live) and this year there were MLS fans who could not watch the ring ceremony and the banner unveiling. Why doesn't MLS seem to care about getting it's champion shown on English speaking truly national (as UniMas is not national like Univision) TV?
In his comments Garber mentioned it as a point of difference, that MLS has to go after both the Hispanic and English speaking markets simultaneously. However in going to Portland for their national broadcast with the most carriage, MLS showed that it currently values a strong fan base over a solid product. The Timbers Army looks great on TV. However, they were nowhere near a trophy last year.
The UniMas slate this year is one again heavy on Chivas USA. So not only does Chivas not have a local broadcast partner, but once again one to three Chivas matches a month will be on a hard to find channel and unavailable on MLS Live.
It shouldn't be an either or proposition. The highlights on MLSsoccer.com are from the local Time Warner broadcast, and tomorrow when the Galaxy-Fire match is finally available for replay on MLS Live it'll most likely be the Time Warner broadcast. So then why the 48 hour wait? If MLS believes a UniMas broadcast is good enough to cause a 48 hour blackout, then use the UniMas broadcast for highlights. Or, make the local broadcast available live on MLS Live.
MLS needs to stop making things overly complicated when an easy solution is available.