A major new MLS broadcast deal with ESPN, Fox and Univision will significantly increase league revenues while also establishing regular Friday and Sunday broadcasts.
It’s been a goal of MLS leaders to establish so-called “destination” broadcasts: regularly scheduled games where fans can count on a game and the opponents don’t necessarily matter. The new deal, which also includes U.S. Soccer, provides a Friday night game on Univision (usually UniMas) in both Spanish and English (via SAP), with ESPN committing to a 5 p.m. ESPN2 Sunday broadcast (as well as digital rights to other matches) and Fox to a weekly Sunday 7 p.m. broadcast on Fox Sports 1 or Fox Sports 2 (as well as digital rights to other matches). Univision will also be broadcasting Friday-night doubleheaders, as well as U.S. men’s national team games and some U.S. women’s national team games. All in all, the three networks are committing to at least 102 yearly broadcasts. The three networks will share the playoffs, though most games will be shown by ESPN and Fox. ESPN Radio, ESPN Deportes and Fox Sports Radio would split radio rights as well.
One angle that’s been relatively downplayed, but which will come up big for hardcore fans: MLS Live is going away, and games not nationally broadcast will be carried on ESPN3. Very quietly ESPN is working on turning ESPN3 into the ultimate digital hub, and the more content the better. As more and more Americans cut the cord and access streaming content via the Internet, ESPN3 is well-positioned to capitalize on the trend with ESPN3 content. MLS coverage could be part of an expanded ESPN3 offering for those who don’t currently have access via ISPs and cable providers.
Perhaps more significantly, the revenues flowing into league coffers will significantly expand: ESPN and Fox are committing to $75 million per year, while Univision is paying $15 million a year. The current deal with ESPN and NBC is pegged at $27 million annually, so the new deal more than triples league broadcast revenues: the eight-year deal totals out at $720 million.