MLS Reaches New Eight Year TV Deal

Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

MLS has reached a new TV deal with ESPN, Fox Sports, and Univision beginning in 2015. What will this mean for us here in Portland?

UPDATE: MLSSoccer.com put up a post today explaining in more detail the digital rights

You can find the article here.

One of the aspects of the media rights deals between MLS and ESPN, FOX, and Univision Deportes that were announced on Monday has to do with the digital space, particularly the streaming of games, the out-of-market game package, and the future of MLS LIVE

To begin, it's important to note that there are no changes to the broadcast and streaming offerings in 2014.

In 2015, as part of the new TV broadcast partnerships, all MLS matches will be available nationally through various digital platforms (and subject to local blackout restrictions, where required). 

Here are some more info:

National Broadcasts

  • ESPN and ESPN2 broadcasts will be streamed via the WatchESPN app.
  • Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 broadcasts will be streamed via the FOX Sports GO mobile app and FOXSportsGO.com for desktops  
  • Univision Deportes broadcasts will be streamed via Univision's digital platforms and mobile apps.

Out-of-Market Package

As stated in the official announcement, the "out-of-market package, currently serviced through the MLS Live and MLS Direct Kick packages, will be available to a wider audience via ESPN3, ESPN’s live multiscreen sports network currently in more than 92 million homes, and WatchESPN, available to fans who receive their video or Internet subscription from an affiliated provider."

  • The out-of-market package will provide HD-quality digital access to more than 200 games each season.
  • ESPN3 does not require a cable subscription; any US-based MLS fan who wants the package will have access to it, regardless of internet provider.
  • The package will be available via multiple over-the-top services (e.g. Apple TV, Roku, etc.).

Over the coming months, MLS will work with ESPN to confirm the details of the out-of-market package, including the specific platforms on which it is offered, blackout restrictions, the availability of match archives, and potential pricing models.

In 2015, the out-of-market package may include the extension of the MLS LIVE subscription package. Then, from 2016 through 2022, the out-of-market package will reside exclusively on ESPN3.

In Canada

  • MLS will continue to provide access to hundreds of out-of-market games each year via the MLS LIVE package.

Beyond match streaming, MLS Digital will continue to provide a cutting-edge digital experience to fans in the USA and Canada (and beyond), including our suite of mobile apps, extensive highlights, and our exclusive curated live MatchCenter experience.

It was announced this morning that MLS and US Soccer have reached a new agreement for television broadcast rights beginning in 2015 and running for eight seasons through 2022. ESPN, Fox Sports, and Univision will be the MLS broadcast partners for the next 8 years.

While nothing has been made official it is being reported that the new deal is worth $90 million per year, for a total of $720 million, according to Sports Business Daily. That is $75 million split evenly between ESPN and FOX with $15 million coming from Univision.

Each of the three networks will have a dedicated and consistent time slot for a "Game-of-the-Week". It seems to be likely that Univision will have one on Friday nights at either 7 or 11pm EST (perhaps depending on whether its an East coast or West coast game). While ESPN and FOX will have their slots on Sunday afternoon/evenings. It appears it would work out that there would always be a Sunday doubleheader. With ESPN taking the first game and Fox Sports 1 following up immediately with a second. And the time slots for those are estimated to be at 5pm and 7pm EST.

So beginning next year the league will finally have dedicated 'games of the week' on each of the three network partners and they will be at the same time on each channel each week.

Other key points to take away are:

  • ESPN and FOX will alternate who airs the MLS Cup and the MLS All Star Game each year. (Unlikely both events on same channel in same year).
  • Minimum of 34 games in each of the three listed time slots above (Fri night, Sun 5pm, Sun 7pm, minimum total of 102 games)
  • ESPN gets the digital, out-of-network rights to MLS matches. This means that it is likely MLS Live goes away or somehow becomes part of ESPN3/WatchESPN. This could mean that instead of hopefully avoiding having cable to watch as much MLS as you want via MLS Live you will most likely now need a TV subscription of some sort.

So here in Portland, we should expect more Friday night and Sunday afternoon matches beginning next year. And to keep things in perspective, with $90 million per year in TV revenue, divide that up amongst a projected 24 teams and it is only $3.75 million per team. Which, while the overall number is an improvement (2.5X their current deals with NBCSN and ESPN), its still not a whole lot on a per team basis.

The MLS press release:

Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer Sign Landmark Television and Media Rights
Partnerships with ESPN, FOX and Univision Deportes

· Eight-year Agreements Begin in 2015

· Nationally-televised Matches will be Anchored on Friday and Sunday

· Univision Becomes First Spanish-language Network to have Exclusive Night with U.S.-based Major Professional Sports League

NEW YORK (May 12, 2014) – Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer have signed new television and media rights partnerships with ESPN, FOX Sports and Univision Deportes, reaching eight-year agreements with the networks to televise MLS and U.S. Soccer matches in the United States through the end of 2022.  The announcement was made today by MLS Commissioner Don Garber, U.S. Soccer CEO/General Secretary Dan Flynn, ESPN, Inc. President and Disney Media Networks Co-Chairman John Skipper, President, COO and Executive Producer for FOX Sports Eric Shanks and Univision Deportes President Juan Carlos Rodriguez.

For the first time in Major League Soccer’s history, all three television partners will feature an exclusive MLS Match of the Week, providing soccer fans throughout the country with a destination day and time for each network.  The Univision family of networks will televise a game of the week on Friday evenings -- primarily on UniMás -- and a wrap-up show on Sundays.  The Friday night match on the Univision family of networks will be the first time a Spanish-language television network will have its own exclusive night with a major professional sports league based in the United States.

Soccer fans will be able to enjoy a doubleheader of MLS action every Sunday, as ESPN and FOX Sports 1 will televise back-to-back MLS matches on Sundays at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. ET, respectively.  More than 125 MLS matches will be televised annually on the three networks.

The new agreements also will include extensive marketing and promotional support from all network partners, including dedicated campaign support and cross-promotion across all three networks for upcoming MLS and U.S. Soccer matches. In addition, ESPN, FOX Sports and Univision Deportes will develop multi-platform initiatives to build the profile of MLS and U.S. Soccer players, including tune-in campaigns, digital content and shoulder programming, social media marketing and integration of MLS and U.S. Soccer stars in network programs such as the ESPYS and Premio Lo Nuestro.

ESPN has broadcast MLS matches since the league’s inception in 1996, and the new agreement will extend ESPN’s partnership with the league to 27 seasons.  Fox Sports returns to MLS after previously broadcasting the league’s games from 2003 to 2011.  Univision’s new agreement with MLS will extend the relationship between the nation’s top Spanish-language network and the league to 20 seasons.

“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.”

Major League Soccer’s out-of-market package, currently serviced through the MLS Live and MLS Direct Kick packages, will be available to a wider audience via ESPN3, ESPN’s live multiscreen sports network currently in more than 92 million homes, and WatchESPN, available to fans who receive their video or Internet subscription from an affiliated provider.  Featuring more than 200 MLS matches each year, the MLS out-of-market package will also be available via over-the-top services such as Google Play, iTunes Apple TV, Roku and others.

With national television broadcasts anchored on Fridays and Sundays, MLS clubs will have exclusivity on Saturdays, allowing for additional flexibility to schedule games.  All of the Saturday MLS matches will be available via the new out-of-market package on ESPN3 and WatchESPN.

All three networks will televise both U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Team matches.  ESPN and FOX Sports 1 will split the English-language Men’s National Team broadcast package of approximately 10 games per year, and will share the schedule of Women’s National Team games. Univision Deportes is the exclusive Spanish language home of U.S. Soccer, broadcasting all of the U.S. Men’s National Team games, and a minimum of four Women’s National Team matches each year during the term.

“We are extremely pleased to have extended our partnerships with ESPN, FOX Sports and Univision,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. “The commitment made by our television partners to broadcast such a wide range and quantity of games demonstrates the growing demand for soccer in our country and provides a platform for our growing fan base to follow the game both for club and country.”

ESPN Networks

· 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.

“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.”

FOX Sports

· 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.

“This groundbreaking deal represents a giant leap forward in the exposure for, and the commitment to, soccer in the U.S.,” said Eric Shanks, president, COO and executive producer for FOX Sports.  “Not only are we making a significant financial commitment, but we also plan to mobilize FOX’s substantial promotional resources to raise awareness and grow the fan base for our nation’s premier soccer league and its national teams.”

Univision

· 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.

“Soccer is the No. 1 sport for Hispanic Americans and we are proud to continue our longstanding partnership with both MLS and U.S. Soccer,” said Rodriguez. “We are excited to bring the Hispanic audience together around this passionate sport.  I am optimistic that our comprehensive partnership will accelerate the growth of soccer even further over the next decade.”

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