MLS, U.S. Soccer sign long-term TV and media rights deal with ESPN, FOX, Univision

Graham Zusi

Photo by Bill Barrett/ISIPhotos.com

By DAN KARELL

Figuring out when to watch MLS on TV just got a whole lot easier.

MLS and U.S. Soccer announced on Monday an eight-year deal with ESPN, FOX Sports, and Univision Deportes that includes, a set-time national game-of-the-week broadcast on each network, rights to future U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Team games, and the distribution of out of market MLS games through ESPN3 and WatchESPN.

The deal is reportedly worth $90 million per year, five times the average yearly revenue for MLS from their current TV deal.

For the first time in league history, ESPN, FOX Sports, and Univision will each televise their own “Game of the Week” at a set time.

ESPN and FOX Sports will share the English-language MLS national TV coverage, televising a Sunday night double-header every week of the season. ESPN (or ESPN2) will televise the first match at 5:00 p.m. ET followed by the second match on FOX Sports 1 at 7:00 p.m. ET. Univision will continue to hold the league’s spanish-language coverage and will televise, likely through UniMas, a Friday night game-of-the-week solely at either 7:00 p.m. ET or 11:00 p.m. ET.

All three networks will televise a minimum of 34-games per season.

The landmark agreement also includes the media rights to the USMNT and USWNT. FOX Sports and ESPN will evenly share the English-language coverage of “approximately ten matches per year” while Univision and their networks will be the home to Spanish-language USMNT and USWNT coverage. Univision will broadcast every USMNT game per year and a minimum of four USWNT matches per year.

Finally, the new deal will see the distribution of MLS out-of-market matches go through ESPN as opposed to the league itself. While MLS Live and MLS Direct Kick will disappear next season, all out-of-market games will be available through ESPN3 and WatchESPN. The out-of-market games will also be available through iTunes, Google Play, Apple TV, Roku, and other viewing options.

Here are the main highlights from the deal:

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.

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 obtain 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.

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.

Caitlin Murray contributed to this report.

This entry was posted in Featured, Major League Soccer, U.S. Soccer. Bookmark the permalink.

69 Responses to MLS, U.S. Soccer sign long-term TV and media rights deal with ESPN, FOX, Univision

  1. mb says:

    Not excited by the loss of MLS Live. Have been using it for past 5 years. I don’t pay for cable television.

    • dude says:

      on the same boat here.no television guess ill be going with univision for the majority of my viewing.

    • over there says:

      This will totally screw me. Not happy at all.

    • Pete says:

      Salary Cap time!

      • LeaveReply says:

        yeah, it should go up at least 3mil per team. This is landmark, but there’s an ugly twin sister no one notices. The international platform for mls sucks real bad. MLS needs to develop some context for its clubs on the international stage. Cocacaf cl isnt going away, but that doesnt mean mls needs to market it, or put much resources into it. I dont even mind if mls and liga mx mutually agree to play just reserves in those games….while putting all their stock into a 2nd level tournament like the europa cup. however, this one can merge with the copa sudamericana and be copa clubes de america. It could also be played starting in late july and include asian and european invites …essentially merged with the summer tour series. This is the 2nd level tournament so fifa shouldnt complain too much with this creative play for tv revenue in regions desperate for it.

    • Josh D says:

      ESPN3 doesn’t require you to purchase a TV subscription. You’re fine.

      • joosetiger says:

        My hunch is that these other matches will be on watchESPN more-so than ESPN3, but I hope I’m wrong. WatchESPN needs a TV subscription login to use it, It will be interesting to see how this unfolds, also will be curious how the matches will be available on streaming devices like Roku and AppleTV and the like.

  2. dude says:

    What happens to MLS live?

    • AzTeXan says:

      I’d actually like it if they keep MLS live because I can stream 4 games on my laptop with no lag but watching just one sports event of ESPN 3 on my laptop is a disaster.

    • over there says:

      Gone. Spread amongst the in-house digital content of the networks.

  3. Bach's Thumb says:

    Finally.

    MLS Live is still an embarrassment. The feed cuts out constantly or is not working in the first place. I always feel like I’m just lighting cash on fire when I subscribe.

    ESPN3 is the real deal.

    • B says:

      It’s super reliable for me. I’ve really enjoyed it – I watch multiple games per week, and it always streams in 720p for me.

      ESPN3 works equally well for me though, so no qualms with most of the games moving there. I am disappointed a bunch of games with be on Fox Sports 1 – I have no way to watch those at the moment.

      • Bach's Thumb says:

        You’ve got Ju-Ju if that thing always works for you. Ju-Ju I tell you.

        • Kosh says:

          Then I’ve got Ju-Ju too because MLS live has been flawless for me on my iPad, iPhone, laptop, computer and Roku. I love it but like this deal even better. Congrats, MLS!!

        • Travis in Miami says:

          It works great for me as well. I’ve been enjoying watching on my desktop, laptop and phone all at the same time. And I’m running Vista on my laptop and XP on the desktop and my phone is a Galaxy II (they just released the 5).

      • vuul says:

        JU-JU CLUB REPRESENT

    • Iggy says:

      And Espn 3 is already free with my fios. Does this mean next year I’ll get to watch any out of market game I want?

      • Bach's Thumb says:

        Looks that way, yeah.

        • Drew11 says:

          No chance that will happen. No pro sport in the US gives away their out of market package.

          • Bach's Thumb says:

            Who said they’re giving it away?

            ESPN3 is a pay-for package that is included (like a channel package) in many service providers. ESPN negotiates access with providers.

            If he has access to ESPN3 through FiOS, it’s because he’s paying for it already.

            • Drew11 says:

              I have ESPN3 also. There’s hardly any top tier live sports on it anymore. We are going to see ESPN 3 premium or something I would imagine.

              • Bach's Thumb says:

                ESPN3 is already premium programming. They’re just hiding the costs in your cable package.

              • Drew11 says:

                I understand that. I’m telling u, ESPN doesn’t put anything good on ESPN3 during prime time. It’s all cheerleading, college sports and the like. Few UEFA games. That’s it.

                If ESPN gives away 100′s MLS games to non ESPN tv subs I will be shocked.

              • Bach's Thumb says:

                Okay, so you think they’re going to jump at the opportunity to make more money?

              • wandmdave says:

                Prepare to be shocked then, unless these reports of totally wrong.

            • Iggy says:

              Works for me. I can’t drop the cost of it because they don’t offer it as incremental. I am considering it free therefore!

    • justascienceguy says:

      I’ve never once had an issue with MLS live. Living in a state with no close teams meant no blackouts from local channels so I could watch every game I wanted to. Been a subscriber since it started, and I will definitely be sad to see it go.

  4. Vic says:

    Wonder how much USMNT/USWNT get from this?

    • Brian Hall says:

      I wonder that myself, it seems we have a right to know what the Federations take is since they are a non-profit. I hope Garber didn’t fleece them, I don’t think at this point USSF should be subsidizing MLS. MLS, like all sports leagues will always cry poor and refuse to open up their books but still ask/demand handouts.

  5. Kev says:

    I loved MLSlive. Never had the problems that others seem to have had with it. Thought it was quick and responsive. WatchESPN is a little bloated and cuts out for me on a more regular basis than MLSlive.

    It’s a big win for MLS, but will be painful for cord cutters.

  6. Kev says:

    Also: Was I the only one that really liked NBCSN’s coverage of MLS?

    …not their app, mind you–that was shamefully awful.

  7. ccwhite says:

    When will this happen, because so far this year getting games on TV/Cable has been non existent… I have only had MLS Live.

    Also – where does this say MLS live is going away?

    • Bach's Thumb says:

      “While MLS Live and MLS Direct Kick will disappear next season, all out-of-market games will be available through ESPN3 and WatchESPN. The out-of-market games will also be available through iTunes, Google Play, Apple TV, Roku, and other viewing options.”

      • ccwhite says:

        Reading fail on my part… To busy trying to scan for dates when I can catch games on ESPN on the big TV vs my monitor

      • beto says:

        Definatly going to miss MLSLive but ESPN3 is excellent. Very happy about this. Worried about involving FOX… Hopefully they step up their game.

        Most of all happy to see the cash following in!

  8. Brian says:

    So sad to see the loss of MLS Live. It has been a great service that I was happy to pay for. I really hope it stays the same next year just gives me more options to watch from. I really don’t want to go through ESPN 3 if I can avoid it.

  9. Thomas says:

    The entire league operates in a deficit. With this deal, looks like a bunch of MLS clubs just became profitable along with Seattle, LA, KC, and Portland. Lets hope the league can negotiate a decent deal with the players union and the entire league becomes profitable.

    • Gino says:

      Eight years is a bit too long for my liking. Yes, it should get every team into the black, but it also means no changes to the most significant revenue source for 8 years. So maybe team payroll increases a bit up front, but unless the big corporate sponsors start rolling in, I can’t envision much change beyond that.

  10. Remy says:

    I love MLS LIve and will dearly miss it. It got even better each passing year. But it is a good thing to know when an MLS game will be broadcast instead of the current guessing game.

    I hope ESPN will show game highlights and scores, unlike now.

    I will miss the excellent coverage NBC has provided the last three years.

  11. EA says:

    “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.”

    Including road qualifiers?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    • Ralph says:

      Sadly, no.

      Away matches are subject to distribution by host country.

      • MidWest Ref says:

        True – we got to watch the US – Mexico away game at Azteca because ESPN bought the english language rights to Mexico’s home games.

  12. MidWest Ref says:

    Positives: ESPN has agreed to a fixed time of the week for a game; Fox Sports 1 is on most basic cable as well; 90 mil is a lot of cash

    Negatives: I liked the NBC coverage; 8 years is a long, long time for a tv contract

  13. Gman says:

    What does this mean for the players? Are they finally gonna get paid right? Especially the minimum wage players could benefit for some raises. And maybe we can get better players from overseas.

    • Eric B says:

      I don’t see how paying players 22-30 on the rosters makes them better players, it would more likely put them out of a job since the league could spend more money on better depth.

      It would help holding on to top youth prospects that get snatched up by Euro/Mexican clubs or decide to go the college to maintain their free agency for a few years.

  14. soccerhorn says:

    I for one will miss MLS Direct Kick. Better than MLS live because I could watch the games on the big monitor, not my laptop.

    ESPN 3 has been fairly solid but so little choice in programming. Very fearful of Fox 2 Go – they charge a ton and offer almost nothing. Hope that changes.

  15. Gerald says:

    If it 90 Mil as reported then with the share that MLS will get/keep I can’t see any reason why the salary cap can’t start at 5 million next season assuming all other rules stay the same with the new CBA (unlikely that other rules won’t change)

    • Jason Kuenle says:

      There are a few reasons that the cap probably won’t jump that high next year:

      First, $90 million is the average. It’s likely something around $60 next year with 10% increases annually, ending around $120 million in 2022.

      Second, American players starting or regularly coming off the bench are not underpaid by international standards for their quality anymore (unless they are on their first contract, but that’s true most places). Raising the cap faster than the growth of the American player pool results in either overpaying for US talent or benching Americans in favor of foreign players.

      Third, even with an influx of cash, there is still a limited (but growing) pool of foreign players that want to play in MLS and limited foreign roster spots to house them.

      Luckily because the TV deal likely has annual increases around 10%, MLS can peg cap growth to that. So, you’re more likely to see $4 million next year and 10% growth annually from there, ending around $8 million in 2022.

  16. MeroMasta says:

    “While MLS Live and MLS Direct Kick will disappear next season, all out-of-market games will be available through ESPN3 and WatchESPN…”

    This sucks for me. I was (am) a happy MLSLive customer that is not a cable TV subscriber.

    Hopefully these “other viewing options” are around the same price as MLSLive. I would hate to resort to streaming, but if I have no other choice…

    • Drew11 says:

      Some ISPs offer ESPN3 w/o cable tv. I get it through comcast. But this release doesn’t make sense to me. 100′s of ESPN3 MLS games doesn’t match up with the current ESPN3 line up of college softball and a few UEFA games. I fear another shoe will drop and we will end up at a monthly fee type service for MLS out of market games.

    • ex_sweeper says:

      MLS says: 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.

      This is not true: my internet provider, Sonicnet, does not support ESPN3. They refuse to participate in a pay model where all internet users have to pay for a service that most users have no interest in. The cable provider in my area, Comcast, is not an option either because it’s only available if I get internet through Comcast.

      I’ll be watching a lot less MLS in 2015.

  17. hartley says:

    The consistency of game placement and times will be huge. But until the league pushes for regular games on free TV, more people will be watching things like golf, NASCAR, NBA, and the NHL. It is really a shame. The NFL knows that they must keep games on free TV to keep viewers.

    • Drew11 says:

      The NFL gets x billions to stay of free TV. That’s why it’s there. The push is away from free TV right now. Live sports are moving to cable TV channels. BCS football, NCAA Final Four, NBA playoffs, etc.

  18. Dan says:

    I know the Canadian deal runs out in 2016…anyone have any idea how much it’s worth a year? What about rights outside the United States (including CONCACAF champions league)? I imagine it’s not much, just wondering.

  19. Yakov says:

    Too MLS Live bitching groupthink instead of posting about the positives. Brainwashed by the eurosnobs…

  20. AMP says:

    I hope ESPN or Fox gets Jimmy Conrad. To me, he is the most entertaining former USMNT commentator, knows his stuff, and loves the game and follows it closely.

    • AMP says:

      Of course, Ives would be nice choice also. Grantland should try to get Ives and Garrett to do video podcasts. Men in Blazers is great, but I think the SBI show could find a nice niche.

      I guess my main point is that I expect ESPN and Fox to put some more money and broadcast time towards domestic soccer, and I hope that involves bringing in some good talent and creating more soccer content, in more ways. I mean they’re really committed to this now, and the most visible soccer event in the world is about to take place. They could ride that wind and generate more interest on the way to the MLS playoffs at the end of the year. If they do this, please, no Simon Borg.

  21. Pingback: Edu call-up, new MLS TV deal, no move to winter schedule planned, USMNT roster reaction, more

  22. BamaMan says:

    Two issues – (1) Fox is not required to put games on Fox Sports 1. It can put them on Fox Sports 2 at its discretion. (2) Where is the US Open Cup? I’m still curious as to why that is not included in the SUM package.

    • Lemmmmmmmmmy!!! says:

      Because it features NASL clubs, and US Soccer – through SUM – is taking MLS’s side in that battle. No pro/rel, and no exposure for your club unless you fork out the big bucks.

  23. Lemmmmmmmmmy!!! says:

    In other words, $90 million for US Soccer’s national team games, and they’re forced to take MLS on as part of the deal, lol.