Report: Talks continuing on joint ESPN/Fox TV deal for MLS and U.S. Soccer

Graham Zusi

Photo by ISIPhotos.com

By DAN KARELL

It’s been a long time since anyone has heard an update on Major League Soccer’s TV negotiations, but according to a report, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

ESPN and Fox are still locked in negotiations with MLS for the television rights to both MLS and U.S. Soccer, according to Sports Business Daily. The two networks are expected to have a joint agreement, with reports in January stating that the deal would be worth around $70 million per season. Current television rights holder NBC dropped out of the right’s bidding in January.

“When we go through this process with different leagues, some of them take longer than others,” ESPN senior vice president of programming Scott Guglielmino told SBD. “It’s an ongoing conversation and discussion. I am hopeful that we will be successful in the not-too-distant future and have something to talk about.”

MLS’ current national television deals with ESPN, NBC, Univision, and MP & Silva (international broadcasts) all expire following the 2014 season. The league’s deal with TSN runs through the 2016 season.

MLS has yet to officially comment on the report.

In 2013, SBD estimated that MLS currently earns around $18 million from their deals with ESPN and NBC, with another $20 million coming from deals with MP & Silva and Univision. TSN’s contract figures with MLS have remained undisclosed.

The $70 million-per year figure reported in January was a surprise because of how badly MLS suffered in television ratings last season. The league saw their viewership drop 29 percent on ESPN and ESPN 2 and an eight percent decrease on NBC Sports Network from a year before, according to SBD’s figures.

It remains unclear how MLS and U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Team games will be split up between ESPN and Fox.

“It’s somewhat complex in that you’re dealing with two different properties, and it’s a long-term deal,” Guglielmino said. “It’s taking a little bit longer than we would have liked, but we’re going to hopefully get something done.”

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What do you think of this news? Do you anticipate this deal being completed before the start of the 2014 season? How big of a deal would it be to the league if they can bring in $70 million per season from just ESPN and Fox?

Share your thoughts below.

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55 Responses to Report: Talks continuing on joint ESPN/Fox TV deal for MLS and U.S. Soccer

  1. drew11 says:

    Sounds like ESPN is low balling MLS now that NBC has dropped out. Their coverage of MLS lately has been awful.

    • The Imperative Voice says:

      We need to get an ESPN time slot and stick to it. ESPN made the MLS game a floating event and so unless you’re an obsessive it’s hard to keep track of them all.

      I liked NBC for their quality and for the fact it wasn’t generally prone to “we’ll show the soccer game as soon as x is over.”

  2. TomG says:

    Unfortunately, MLS games will all air on FoxSports8 because of conflicts with NASCAR’s unicycle riding clowns series.

    • SBI TroII says:

      NASCAR practices (yes practices for the Daytona 500) pull in more viewers for than an average MLS match. Until those numbers change your sarcasm is fighting an uphill battle. There’s a reason NBC bid for NASCAR over retaining its MLS properties.

      • TomG says:

        I’d rather they take less money and stick with NBC if it means better production values and better placement for games.

        • kyle says:

          I don’t mean for this to sound rude, but of course you would take less money for better production values because you aren’t the one that is getting paid here so it doesn’t really affect you either way

          • TomG says:

            Not talking about for my own sake, but for the good of the league. As a growing sport, it’s best to maintain a high level of visibility and prestige to try to continue to grow the sport. Sure, the extra money will allow the signing of a few extra DP’s, but is that worth the lack of TV exposure that’s already become their big problem? Not sure. Will they attract more fans with a better TV product or with a few big name players?

        • SBI TroII says:

          Sure that’s ideal, but NBC is not interested. They have EPL, College Basketball, and NASCAR that will take up its schedule. The network is happy to move on from MLS.

      • Alex H says:

        Does anybody know what MLS ratings / revenues are when local TV deals are factored in. I, for one, watch far more LAG games on Time Warner than I do other games with other teams on the networks. Given the local nature of soccer support I would think that local TV would be a large proportion of viewership.

        • TomG says:

          good question. not sure.

        • Shyam says:

          I think those rights are sold by individual teams, but I’m not sure.

        • Steven C says:

          Same here. Ever since the Crew moved over to FS Ohio, I spend more time watching MLS on that channel than I do NBCSN or ESPN.

          • Frank says:

            Part of the problem is that you never know when a game might be on or they start way past my bedtime.

            Also, not too excited about the idea of Crew games being televised on Time Warner.

          • catfish says:

            Signs are pointing to Crew moving to Time Warner Sports which is not making fans real happy as a large % of viewers don’t have Time Warner cable. so may be more money but far fewer viewers. Not sure that is a good decision.

  3. KC says:

    If MLS had Sunday games televised at a reasonable hour for those of us on the east coast maybe their ratings would likely improve.

    Those 10:00, 10:30, 11:00 matches are a killer for those of us who would otherwise watch but have to get up for work in the AM.

    • Dinho says:

      Never heard of DVR?

    • the original jb says:

      Agreed. I believe the lower TV ratings are due to the poor scheduling by MLS. The most entertaining teams (last year) are nearly all out west. ~50% of viewers are in EST. If MLS’s goal is to make their games available to the widest audience possible, they have to start the west coast games earlier, its that simple. And the TV networks need to televise the best current teams/games.

      • Horsewhistle says:

        +1, The games need to be scheduled closer together like EPL, at optimum times. Right now it’s buckshot and I have little interest in seeing a game in primetime for teams outside of my region and division.

      • JayAre says:

        Good point but the problem with that is that the weather in LA, Houston and Dallas is Hot weather. New York, New England, Columbus, Toronto and Montreal is cold weather. This is an American/Canadian league and we cover more land than any other league. We have to start games at the best times in those markets

        • Horsewhistle says:

          Weather is a factor, very true, but it’s been figured out before. How about East coast start early afternoon, west coast games after. In the summer, west coast late morning? Game is done then i can have a real meal afterwards instead of a GD pretzel dog. Personally I am not a fan of 7-8pm games and living and attending matches here on the west coast I don’t blame east coast viewers for tuning out and that’s 2/3 the market ! Seriously, less market competition for afternoon games, All the NBA, Baseball, monster truck rallies can happen in the evening. Do a replay at 10pm of match of the day for the bar crowd. Okay, done. Can the television grow up now and give us what we want? This is ridiculous that it hasn’t been figured out yet. Seriously, were American soccer fans – were used to compromise, just give us some consistency!!

          • Tweaked says:

            Afternoon games suck. In DC, during the summer, you are dealing with high humidity, 90+ degree temps, sun beating down on you all day.

            Night games have much more atmosphere, the tailgates in Lot 8 are better, and it makes for more of an event.

        • The Imperative Voice says:

          Houston’s new stadium is a sweatbox in the summer — there is no airflow like Robertson had, where the evening sea breeze could cool things off — so the games need to be at night here during that time period.

          FWIW, I’ve been to miserable daytime matches here in April so it’s not even necessarily “summer.”

    • Brett Bates says:

      KC – I totally agree. I’m a MLS geek but I wasn’t going to stay up past midnight to watch a out of market game. This is something that the MLS has to address asap

  4. David says:

    Let be honest, the real prize ESPN and Fox are after are the national team games. If MLS wasn’t lumped in with them I doubt the MLS rights would be valuable at all given the ratings. I watch MLS games but they are not a blip on the radar for ESPN and FOX who could probably make more money as people have stated showing NASCAR practice.

    • Quit whining about soccer in the US says:

      Awwww, it is ok David. Soccer is becoming successful in the US…it will be all right.

      If your whining statement was true, then why have franchise fees gone through the roof ?
      Why has profitablity gone though the roof ?

      • Ryan says:

        Just curious, what part of David’s comment are you referring to when you suggest he is whinning? We all love soccer and wouldn’t be on this site if we didn’t but facts are facts and MLS ratings suck and national T.V. rights are pretty much worthless to broadcasters. MLS is basically something to fill a time slot when they don’t have baseball or some other sport to show. I would love for MLS ratings to see a huge jump but it just isn’t happening right now and networks know this.

  5. Joe says:

    Please no :(

  6. SBI TroII says:

    Exactly. However, it’s also beneficial for the USSF for MLS to get as big a deal as possible in the long run. They both benefit from each other as a combined deal.

  7. Zach Ward says:

    I just pay for the MLSLive package every year. I like watching MLS, but whoever buys the TV rights usually only broadcast one or two games a week.

    • tom says:

      +1 for MLSLive. I got it preseason and paid less than $50. That’s like the cost of two tickets to a single game. Even the nationally televised games are available 48 hours later…and you can watch any game since 2010. Oh, and they offer all the games in condensed format that are shortened to about 20 minutes of key highlights…there’s also multiple viewing windows for watching several games at once…if you’re a big MLS fan you’re crazy not to throw down for the package.

    • Nico C. says:

      I am a huge fan of MLS Live. This will be my second year with the subscription. But MLS Live will be in jeopardy next year with these new TV contracts. There is some talk about YouTube possibly getting involved.

      • bbstl says:

        I wouldn’t be terribly suprised if YouTube (Google) gets involved. Apparently, they are also looking at bidding for the TV rights to NFL Sunday Ticket when Direct TV’s contract is up after next season.

  8. Good Jeremy says:

    Does the potential ESPN and Fox contract include Spanish-language broadcasting rights?

    And will the extra $30-50 million (depending on how Spanish language rights are handled) go towards a significant raise in the salary cap?

  9. Rex says:

    It is going to suck. ESPN sucks wont do MLS justice and Fox will just push games to niche channels that none of us have.

    • SilverRey says:

      Bummed NBC is out of the running. Maybe they will make a late surge after ESPN and FOX beat MLS into a corner, promising that they will only show a game a week each. At 11pm. On Tuesdays.

    • beto says:

      Wonder if MLS will ever start their own channel like NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB have done..

      Would actually be worth while if they showed other soccer leagues too.

      • MattJack says:

        Pretty much after this next TV contract that is what Garber needs to get done, enough expansion already. get the TV network, it has worked out great for every other league to promote their product anytime of the day. I watch more games on these networks than the usual “primetime” ones because they typically show non-regional coverage around the US and I’m not forced into just 1 game either as they tend to switch over to others if the scores get out of hand.

  10. shawn says:

    They need to stop showing game when the walking dead is on.

  11. beto says:

    At this point more $$ is all that matters. I use MLSLive or the spanish channels so im out but NBC was clearly the best provider in terms of quality and accessability. Hopefully FOX cleans up their game and makes their games online and on normal channels.

    As for the US games, i would split it with one network gets WC and WCQ and the other gets GC and ConfedCup. Friendlies idk work out a deal maybe one gets home games and the other gets away games.

  12. Paul says:

    Rubbish move which will hurt the league in the long run. A few million more per team is insignificant in the big picture. If it is significant then the owners have very shallow pockets and should not be in the league. NBC is superior in every way to Fox and ESPN. Fox is not in as many homes and its coverage of MLS was unwatchable. Short term thinking by Garber.

    • Jimmy says:

      Yep. The coverage on fox compared to NBC is just terrible. Brian mcbride needs to join the NBC crew and be done with those folks.

      On the show after the champions league they have an NFL guy doing the soccer coverage. WTF?!

  13. TheGarrincha says:

    I would look at the NFL, double time(2X), as a good litmus/prototype for better MLS scheduling.
    Off course keeping in mind domestic conflicts and international FIFA dates etc.

  14. Jim says:

    MLS needs to be real careful here. If they get forced onto Fox Sports 2 they’re in trouble. The 3 things that will kill their exposure and aren’t worth the extra cash:
    1) Airing matches on a network that isn’t widely available
    2) Airing on a network that requires a seperate individual payment each month (as opposed to one that’s widely included in most mid-range cable packages)
    3) Airing on a network that is only available in SD

    • Ian says:

      Exactly why MLS should have worked hard to retain NBC. I know NBC dropped out of the bid, but it is likely because Fox dropped this supposed $70 million figure. MLS would have been wise to accept less money for better production. It would have been an investment in the future of the league.

  15. Cosmosfan says:

    in other words what the broadcasters really want in the USMNT games and are in conflict over what they actually want and MLS is just sort of a passenger.

  16. Birgit Calhoun says:

    Maybe the whole thing has to do with keeping soccer out of the mainstream as has happened so many times before. I presume all the other sports are trying to maintain their market share. It’s pathetic to see so little covereage in th San Francisco Chrobicle for example and often the soccer news takes a backseat to all other sports.