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May 12, 2014

MLS agrees new TV, media rights deal

Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer on Monday revealed new television and media rights partnerships with ESPN, FOX Sports and Univision Deportes, signaling eight-year agreements with the networks to televise MLS and U.S. matches in the United States through the end of 2022.

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ESPN and FOX Sports 1 will televise back-to-back MLS matches on Sundays at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. ET, respectively. More than 125 MLS matches will be televised annually on the three networks.

"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 during a news conference on Monday. "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."

The eight-year deal with the three networks are priced five times higher than the average annual value of the league's current media deals, Sports Business Daily reported.

ESPN has aired MLS games since the league's inception in 1996. Fox broadcast games from 2003-11 before NBC won the rights to the contract. NBC is in the final season of a three-year agreement.

Beginning in 2015, ESPN will have English-language rights for the United States national teams' FIFA World Cup qualifying matches (men and women) -- up to 10 matches per year.

In addition, ESPN3, the multiscreen sports network in more than 92 million homes, will have exclusive rights to carry MLS matches outside the home markets of participating teams. The out-of-market matches are currently available only through the MLS Live and MLS Direct Kick packages. ESPN3's out-of-market telecasts will exclude matches carried by the league's other national TV partners -- FOX Sports and Univision.

"ESPN remains firmly committed to world-class soccer and this agreement underscores our belief that this is an ascendant sports property," said ESPN president John Skipper. "We are proud to continue our longstanding relationship with MLS and U.S. Soccer, and the broad media rights we have acquired, including enhanced digital rights, will benefit all our platforms."

Shortly after the deals were announced, New England Revolution owner Jonathan Kraft spoke about the magnitude of Monday's developments.

"Our family has been involved in MLS since before the league was playing games," said Kraft, "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."

ESPN2 will televise 34 regular-season matches as part of the "MLS Game of the Week" series on Sundays at 5 p.m. ET, six playoff MLS matches each year, and the MLS All Star game and the MLS Cup in alternating seasons. ESPN Deportes will also present 34 MLS regular-season and six playoff matches with Spanish-language commentators. As part of the agreement, Fox Sports will offer additional MLS and U.S. Soccer national teams content on its networks.

"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," Kraft said. "This deal creates a consistent schedule and appointment viewing for our fans around the country and moves MLS into the top echelon of North American sports media properties."

Kraft also spoke to the efforts of Garber, who has overseen the league grow from 12 franchises when he took office in 1999 to 22 with New York City FC (2015) Orlando City FC (2015) and Atlanta (2017) entering the league in coming years.

"Commissioner Garber and his team deserve a tremendous amount of credit for crafting this structure with our broadcast partners and bringing it to fruition," Kraft said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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