13 May 2014

MLS's new TV contract with ESPN & Fox Sports is a big win for the league

A new television deal for Major League Soccer has been reported to be very close as far back as January but now it is official as of yesterday as MLS has signed an eight-year contract with ESPN, who have been a partner with the league since its inception, and Fox Sports, who were a partner from 2003 until 2011. This is by far the biggest television deal that MLS has signed, the total contract including ESPN, Fox and Univision (who acquired the Spanish language rights) is five times the value of the previous contract, and it is safe to say that this is a major moment in the history of the league.

This new television contract, which comes into effect with the 2015 MLS season, was going to be an important one for the league going forward. Of course you could say that for any television contract but for MLS in particular, a big TV contract would help generate more revenue that would sprinkle down to the teams in order to acquire better players. Also, with the league expanding to New York City and Orlando in 2015, as well as Atlanta in 2017 plus a pending team in Miami that is still sorting out stadium details, a new deal would also be important for growing the league and ensuring its continued success of expansion into these big markets.

The deal with ESPN and Fox is important for such a big increase in TV money despite the league's TV ratings declining over the past couple of years. However, this new contract looks to correct past TV issues to potentially help ratings.

The big issue with the ratings has largely been seen has a haphazard and inconsistent television schedule. The league noted that matches were on six different days at 21 different start times on its national television schedule. Now, ESPN and Fox Sports will air an exclusive doubleheader on Sunday evenings with ESPN having matches at 5:00 Eastern, predominantly on ESPN2, and Fox having matches at 7:00 Eastern , predominantly on Fox Sports 1 (Univision will air games exclusively on Friday nights at either 7:00 Eastern or 11:00 Eastern, mostly on UniMas). The two networks will also alternate airing the MLS Cup and the MLS All-Star Game, although it is not certain who starts with which first next year.

ESPN and Fox will also split equally all U.S. National Team matches for both the men's and women's squad. Both will control the Spanish language rights for their own matches but not the MLS Cup. ESPN3 will also have exclusive streaming over 200 out-of-market matches. Check out all the network details at Sports Business Daily.

Of course, it is important to note that this contract is not going to solve all of Major League Soccer's problems. But it gives the league a positive future going forward, one that may prove to be critical of the league's long term success in the United States.

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