May 12 2014, 1:14pm CDT | by Forbes
When we reported on the Major League Soccer’s financial success in November, we noted that one of the biggest factors for the league’s continued success was its upcoming TV deal negotiations. MLS is currently in the final year of TV deals with ESPN, NBC and Univision, which pay a combined $30 million annually on average. After an especially long negotiation period, the league has finally sealed new, eight-year agreements with ESPN, Fox and Univision that will run through the 2022 season.
At today’s announcement press conference, MLS commissioner Don Garber called the set of eight-year deals the “most comprehensive media rights arrangement” in the history of American soccer. Garber also discussed the league’s need for maximizing the league’s TV revenue, an area in which MLS appears to have been incredibly successful.
In our November report we predicted that, thanks to a burgeoning fan base and the networks’ need for live programming, MLS should have little trouble more than doubling its TV rights income. It turns out even that bullish guess underestimated the final outcome – the three deals are reportedly worth a combined $90 million per year, roughly triple what MLS was receiving previously. That’s still a fair bit behind America’s other pro leagues – the NHL, for instance, gets an average $200 million per year from NBC – but is a huge step toward closing the gap.
ESPN and Univision will remain as partners, with NBC being dropped for Fox. It’s worth noting that MLS will lose its (slight) connection to the English Premier League by leaving NBC, but the new deals have included some changes that seem geared toward growing the league’s television audience.
Principal among those changes is planned consistent scheduling. Similar to other American pro leagues that play their nationally broadcast games in a consistent weekly time slot, MLS will now play a nationally broadcast double-header every Sunday night. ESPN will also now control the league’s out-of-market games, which were formerly aired on MLS digital properties.
MLS has developed a loyal in-stadium fan base that has put the league ahead of the NBA and NHL in average home game attendance, but television viewership has struggled to top even the WNBA in recent years. The changes to the league’s broadcast schedule should help increase TV viewership, which is key for the still budding league. Plus with MLS expansion teams coming soon in markets like New York, Orlando, Atlanta and Miami, odds are there will be plenty of fans looking to tune in.
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