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MLS to begin TV deal negotiations soon

The organisation which helped Gary Stevenson carve out the Pac-12 Network will advice MLS in its upcoming negotiaons for a new television contracts.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

With all of MLS' TV contracts set to expire at the end of 2014, negotiations for new contracts are going to begin any week now. Recently appointed President & Managing Director of MLS Business Ventures Gary Stevenson has as his chief responsibility these negotiations, and today we got a bit more information on how that might work.

Evolution Media Capital is an affiliate of CAA, one of the top mega agencies around, and was key in the negotiation of Pac-10 expansion and the Pac-12 Network. Gary Stevenson was President of Pac-12 Enterprises before joining Major League Soccer.

Without knowing all the specific details, it is easy to see the connections. It also helps put certain recent MLS announcements into context. MLS expansion with a second New York franchise makes it stronger in the US' biggest TV market. Adding four teams by 2020 is controversial to some, with FIFA liking leagues to be closer to twenty teams and most of the major markets covered, but use the Pac-10 expansion for context.

The league had the major markets of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland covered when they expanded with Utah and Colorado. While college football expansion in the 90s involved the likes of Florida State and Miami who became powerhouses, recent expansion like the Pac-12 has been about increasing a TV coverage footprint. Colorado's struggling football program still brought with it the Denver market (18th largest in the country, between Seattle and Portland on the full list).

There are a number of top markets that MLS isn't represented in: Atlanta, Detroit, Phoenix, Tampa, Minneapolis, Miami, Orlando. Each of them have lower division teams and/or interested ownership groups which would love to court MLS' fancy. Each of them will help MLS when it goes into negotiations for new TV contracts.

Negotiations start now, when the bump the 2014 World Cup will get soccer is still a projection and not a reality. That probable bump will be pushed hard to the likes of ESPN who carry the event in 2014 and recently lost their EPL package, and Fox Sports who lost MLS to NBC Sports but will begin carrying the World Cup in 2018. NBC Sports, who have used MLS to find talent for their new EPL package, will likely want to stay in as well.

It's possible we could see MLS carve out a new package, or allow for more flexibility with which games get broadcast. The current deals are $80 million/eight years with Univision signed in 2006 to broadcast 25 MLS games a year, 10 U.S. men's national team games and five international games operated by Soccer United Marketing. ESPN paid $64 million/eight years for a deal that includes regular season games, the All Star Game and MLS Cup. In 2011, NBC signed a $30 million/three year deal for 45 MLS matches and four U.S. men's national team games each season.