Key to new MLS broadcast deal: Mexican fans

Seattle Sounders FC

Why were ESPN, Fox and Univision willing to double rights fees for MLS broadcasts? The key to the new MLS broadcast deal, according to Seattle Sounders GM/owner Adrian Hanauer: Mexican fans.

Premier League broadcasts have garnered a lot of media attention in recent months, but the top-rated broadcasts in the United States this year have been from Liga MX on Univision: for instance, the May 18 Clausura final attracted 4.7 million viewers in the United States was the top broadcast. And regular-season games regularly top other U.S. sports events in the ratings.

The strategy from Univision: combine MLS broadcasts with Liga MX games. That should expose more Mexican-Americans to MLS and expand the game, while also potentially attracting more Liga MX players to the United States:

Hanauer gets bullish again when he talks about the TV deal’s Univision component. Ratings for soccer coverage are eye-opening, and should, in theory, lead to more viewers and more money for MLS. According to the 2010 census, 31.8 million Americans of Mexican descent live in the U.S. Analysts say that number is now more than 34 million. Hanauer said that influenced Univision joining MLS as a partner.

“First and foremost, Univision’s play is to appeal to all of those people in the U.S.,” he said. “Part of that is Mexican first-division soccer, part of that is the Mexican national team. But more and more so, as second- and third-generation Mexicans settle in America, it’s the U.S. national team and the top U.S. domestic league, too.”

Hanauer may find it’s harder to attract top-flight Liga MX players to MLS than he assumed: the present MLS salary cap and current MLS business model may not allow big-buck players. But he’s certainly correct that there’s a considerable upside to MLS broadcasts on Univision: if the network can bring some of that Mexican League passion to MLS, a ratings bonanza could ensue.

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