Report: ESPN/Fox to split MLS television rights

Steven Bisig-US PRESSWIRE

Ives Garlicep and Jonathan Tannenwald are reporting that NBC Sports will not continue as an MLS broadcast partner after 2014, with the old guard of ESPN and Fox Sports taking over the contract.

It's been known for some time that MLS has already begun negotiations for their new television contracts as the current ones expire at the end of the 2014 season. Ives Garlicep and Jonathan Tannenwald are reporting that NBC Sports will not continue as an MLS broadcast partner, with the old guard of ESPN and Fox Sports taking over after 2014.

If Tannenwald seems a bit tense, it's understandable as it seems he's been sitting on the story since Christmas as was asked to keep it quiet. To then see a report cropping up somewhere else can't feel great. However for our means the corroborating reports makes this fairly close to gospel.

The speculation immediately, including by Ives, was that poor ratings kept NBC from going further in negotiations. I've long argued that live sports event programming is valued by cable networks simply because it has to be watched live, and specific ratings aren't scrutinized the way they are in primetime network programming.

In Fox's case, they went toe to toe with NBC over the EPL and lost after winning the battle with ESPN for the World Cup. Plans went forward in creating a simple multi-sport cable network, but with Champions League an irregular event Fox needed MLS's regular programming to promote the Cup coverage in the US.

My personal issue with Fox has always been a phoned-in feel to the events covered. Where ESPN and NBC had and have an announce team on the ground in England, Fox simply simulcasted international feeds. The few times they had people call the event live, it was stunt casting as in Gus Johnson.

It's great that Fox was so intent on getting MLS they beat NBC to the punch with an offer MLS couldn't refuse, but I hope it's treated as more than a daytime talk show existing solely to promote the meatier offerings of the World Cup.

Update: Tannenwald published his report, which provides some clarification (link)

*The biggest change is that although ESPN remains the primary English language broadcaster, the secondary package is more of an equal than before. The biggest possible change would mean Fox getting some of the home US World Cup Qualifiers, which is the big fish in this grab.

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