By Barry Janoff
May 12, 2014: National TV deals arguably are a milestone of how well (or not so well) a sports league is doing.
Major League Soccer may not be up there with the NFL, the league that viewers go to for what people in the U.S. call football, but the soccer league has taken several steps in that direction.
MLS and Soccer United Marketing, the marketing arm for MLS, have signed new TV deals with ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision that represent the "most comprehensive U.S. media rights partnership in the history of soccer" in the U.S."
All three deals extend through 2022. Industry analysts put the total of the three deals at $270 million, about triple what the league gets under its current pacts, which includes NBC until Fox takes over.
The deals come as ESPN begins its one-month countdown to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which runs June 12-July 13.
Though the dollars are big for MLS, the three-network deal still trails other recent broadcast partnerships. In 2011, NBC paid $4.9 billion for the rights to broadcast the Olympics from 2012-2020, and just recently paid another $7.6 billion to extend their rights through 2032. NBC also has a deal with the NHL for about $200 million a season, per industry analysts.
In 2011, the NFL signed nine-year deals with CBS, NBC and Fox (which begin this coming season and run through 2022) for a combined $28 billion (about $3,1 billion annually) and an eight-year deal with ESPN in excess of $15 billion.
The NBA currently has a combined $7.5 billion deal with Turner Sports (TNT) and ESPN/ABC due to expire following the 2015-16 campaign.
In 2012, MLB signed eight-year deals (2013-21) with Fox and Turner Sports for a combined $800 million annually, and a seven-year deal (2014-21) with ESPN for about $700 million per season, according to industry analysts.
In 2011, Fox paid $425 million for the U.S. English-language rights to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups, in addition to rights to all FIFA events from 2015 to 2022 such as the Women's World Cups in 2015 and 2019. Telemundo, which is owned by NBC Universal, paid $600 million for the Spanish-language rights covering the same years.
ESPN has broadcast MLS matches since the league’s inception in 1996, adds rights to MLS and U.S. Men's and Women's National Team matches for the next eight years.
The Fox Sports pact marks a return to MLS after broadcasting the matches from 2003-2011.
Univision’s new agreement extends a the relationship between the Spanish-language network and the league to 20 seasons.
The new agreements also 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.
“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 [the U.S.]."
Under the deal, ESPN, FOX Sports and Univision Deportes will "develop multi-platform initiatives to build the profile of MLS and U.S. Soccer players," such as tune-in campaigns, digital content and shoulder programming, social media marketing and integration of MLS and U.S. Soccer stars in network programs including the ESPYS and Premio Lo Nuestro.
“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," MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. "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.”
ESPN's deal includes English-language rights for the U.S. men's and women's National Teams, 34 regular-season matches on ESPN2 as part of its “MLS Game of the Week” series, six playoff matches each year and the MLS All Star game and the MLS Cup in alternating seasons.
ESPN3 gets exclusive rights to carry MLS matches outside the home markets of participating teams. ESPN International gets rights to carry all 34 ESPN2 “MLS Game of the Week” matches. ESPN also gets "extensive media rights" for all ESPN media platform,s such as SportsCenter, and ESPN FC, on TV and digital platforms, including in-progress highlights.
In addition, ESPN said it would partner with SUM to create new soccer events for fans.
Beginning in 2015, Fox Sports 1 splits with ESPN the English-language U.S. men’s national team broadcast package (approximately ten games per year) and women’s national team games; gets n equal split of all U.S. soccer matches with ESPN; gets digital rights across all platforms and devices, including its Fox Sports GO mobile app and FOXSportsGO.com for desktops, for the games it televises; digital highlight rights for MLS’s out-of-market package via Fox Sports digital platforms; rights for Fox Sports Radio to broadcast MLS matches; and the opportunity to televise the MLS SuperDraft and other marquee MLS events.
Univision gets a minimum of 34 regular season games, on an exclusive basis, on Friday evenings; two MLS Cup playoff matches per season, on an exclusive basis; the AT&T MLS All-Star Game and MLS Cup, exclusively in Spanish on Univision; Spanish-language rights to all U.S. Soccer Men’s National Team matches and a minimum of four U.S. Women’s National Team matches each year; and digital rights across all platforms and mobile devices for the games it televises.
“Our family has been involved in MLS since before the league was playing games, and with that perspective, I believe this new broadcast deal represents one of the most significant milestones — if not the most significant — in the league’s history,’’ Jonathan Kraft , majority owner of the New England Revolution and the NFL's New England Patriots, said in a statement. "Our business has grown exponentially in the last decade and this long-term agreement with ESPN, Fox, and Univision, all preeminent sports broadcasters, punctuates this growth and success.
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