Today, Major League Soccer and US Soccer1 announced an eight-year broadcast rights deal with ESPN, Fox Sports, and Univision worth a reported $90 million per year. That price is a five-fold improvement over the previous media rights deal, which had an English rights payout of $18 million and Spanish language of $9.9 million.
Critical to the national MLS TV deal is consistent scheduling & promotion. Very hard to build an audience with shotgun scheduling. Good work— Merritt Paulson (@MerrittPaulson) May 12, 2014
Beyond the price, the biggest positive change in this deal is consistency. As part of the new deal, MLS will have an English language double-header on Sundays across ESPN and Fox Sports 1 at 5pm and 7pm Eastern respectively. ESPN and Fox will alternate showing MLS Cup and the MLS All-Star Game. There will be a minimum of 34 exclusive regular-season games broadcast on each network, primarily on ESPN2 and Fox Sports 1.
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The Univision deal will see MLS on Friday evenings, a night when Univision networks have often also broadcasted Liga MX. The time slots are either 7:00pm or 11:00pm Eastern, primarily on UniMas. There will also be a wrap-up show on Sundays.
It has felt in the past that ESPN was scheduling around MLS and not the other way around. West Coast matches would kick off at their normal 7:00pm time, when that isn't the case for ESPN's MLB package as a counter-example where first pitch is moved up to 5:00pm for West Coast games. Now MLS will have to schedule matches ESPN/Fox/Univision select for their national TV slate around those dedicated time slots.
On the US Soccer side, ESPN/Fox Sports will split an English language package of approximately 10 United States fixtures per year, and will also share a package of Women's national team matches. The deal does not include away World Cup Qualifiers. Fox Sports takes over World Cup rights from ESPN beginning in 2018.
"We are honored to partner with ESPN, FOX and Univision to form the most comprehensive U.S. media rights partnership in the history of soccer in our country," said Commissioner Garber. "The commitment from our television partners in terms of structure, length and magnitude is unprecedented, and these new partnerships are another strong indicator of the league's continued growth and the overall fan interest in our sport."
Part of the negotiation has affected Major League Soccer's out-of-market package currently serviced by MLS Live and MLS Direct Kick. This is now being folded in to ESPN3 and WatchESPN.
With national broadcasts now anchored on Fridays and Sundays, MLS teams will have exclusivity for scheduling on Saturdays giving teams more flexibility. Any out-of-market Saturday games will be available on ESPN3 and WatchESPN.
"ESPN remains firmly committed to world-class soccer and this agreement underscores our belief that this is an ascendant sports property," said Skipper. "We are proud to continue our longstanding relationship with MLS and U.S. Soccer, and the broad media rights we have acquired, including enhanced digital rights, will benefit all our platforms."
ESPN/ABC has been a broadcast partner with MLS since the beginning in 1996, but this is their biggest investment in the league yet. ESPN Deportes will simulcast all of ESPN's broadcasts. John Skipper called MLS a future buy, comparing the league to pork bellies. If you don't get that reference, please stop reading this article and watch Trading Places. It's surely available on Netflix.
The bullet points for each network's deal are as follows:
· Minimum of 34 regular season games, on an exclusive basis, on Sundays at 5 p.m. ET primarily on ESPN2.
· ESPN and FOX Sports will share MLS Cup Playoff matches outside of the two Univision games.
· MLS Cup will alternate each year between ESPN and FOX Sports 1.
· The AT&T MLS All-Star Game will alternate each year between ESPN and FOX Sports 1.
· ESPN and FOX Sports will split all U.S. Soccer matches.
· ESPN3 will carry the matches in MLS' out-of-market package.
· ESPN Radio and ESPN Deportes Radio networks have the rights to broadcast MLS matches.
· ESPN obtains digital rights across all platforms and devices for the games it televises.
· Minimum of 34 regular season games, on an exclusive basis, on Sundays at 7 p.m. ET primarily on FOX Sports 1.
· FOX Sports 1 and ESPN will split MLS Cup Playoff matches outside of the two Univision games.
· MLS Cup will alternate each year between FOX Sports 1 and ESPN.
· The AT&T MLS All-Star Game will alternate each year between FOX Sports 1 and ESPN.
· FOX Sports obtains digital rights across all platforms and devices for the games it televises, including its FOX Sports GO mobile app and FOXSportsGO.com for desktops.
· FOX Sports obtains digital highlight rights for MLS's out-of-market package via FOX Sports digital platforms.
· ESPN and FOX Sports 1 will split all U.S. Soccer matches.
· FOX Sports Radio network has the opportunity to broadcast MLS matches.
· Minimum of 34 regular season games, on an exclusive basis, on Friday evenings usually at 7 p.m. ET or 11 p.m. ET, primarily on UniMás.
· Two MLS Cup Playoff matches per season, on an exclusive basis, during the knockout round.
· The AT&T MLS All-Star Game and MLS Cup, exclusively in Spanish on Univision.
· All U.S. Soccer Men's National Team matches, including a minimum of four U.S. Women's National Team matches each year over the term.
· Exclusive MLS matches on the Univision networks will include Second Audio Program (SAP), providing viewers the option of watching games in English. English audio also will be available for matches televised on Univision's digital platforms.
· Univision Deportes Network (UDN), Univision's 24-hour sports network, will feature 5-7 consecutive Friday doubleheaders in May and June that will be surrounded by two hours of MLS ancillary programming.
· UDN will televise a weekly Sunday MLS wrap-up program and a condensed MLS match of the week.
· Univision obtains digital rights across all platforms and mobile devices for the games it televises.
1. Collectively Soccer United Marketing ↩
2. Tune-In campaigns give you the time and day of a program so users know when to tune-in. With a dedicated time slot, these campaigns can be more general, instead of promoting specific big fixtures.↩
3. Shoulder programming includes shows like pre and post-match programming and are usually part of a rights package. This a separate, branded, usually in-studio program; not the current "push kick-off back twenty minutes so we can chat" model currently used on national broadcasts.↩