Wednesday, April 14, 2021

MLS TV Deal Negotiations Starting

Major League Soccer kicks off their 2021 season on the field and in the television rights negotiation room. That's right, the time is finally here. It's been seven years since their last deal was inked.

Networks begin official negotiations with the league in May with a window that stays open until early summer. The usual partners are involved (ESPN, Fox Sports, Univision) for now. There seems to be a line of thinking that CBS will get involved because of their new streaming network (Paramount+) because they have been spending on soccer.

MLS is desperately trying to sweeten the pot this go-round. Even above their bundled rights of the last deal (which included both Men's and Women's National team games). This time MLS is including every MLS game, USMNT/WNT, and betting data rights. 


In the past, Don Garber sort of left it up to each team to secure their own local broadcasting deals. Almost like giving kids homework assignments. This worked to wildly inconsistent regional deals. Some teams were able to make money, others weren't able to secure anything so they just streamed games, and others signed horrible deals with streaming startups that completely flopped. For places like Columbus, they basically paid for airtime effectively making the broadcast team employees.

Anyhow, all that ends next year and the bid winners for MLS will be able to do whatever they want with every single MLS game.

What this leads me to believe is that MLS is breaking from the busted-up MLB type regional model and looking more towards the Premier League / NBC type model. Everything all neat and tidy and in one (or two) place(s).


If this is the case, then it puts ESPN and CBS towards the top of the list of ideal places that Garber wants the league to land. Both have streaming networks to give games a place to call home as well as being able to show games on traditional broadcast TV, cable channels, and streaming. This leaves fox out in the cold a bit because they have not really been able to crack the "+" streaming code.

It would be a fairly radical shift away from the fragmented deal they have now and would require one network to flip a large bill, so it could be pie-in-the-sky stuff for MLS.

What I think ML/SUM wants.

1. Long-time partners ABC/ESPN and Univision (TUDN) will carry MLS. 

2. ESPN doing the heavy lifting of filling broadcast booths with talent. Perhaps as many as 7-10 broadcast teams that will be mined from existing local talent. 

3. Individual MLS teams will be tasked with the actual production of games.

4. TUDN with give MLS a lifeline. Ratings will be better than the English language counterparts in some markets and the cup games against Mexican teams will be near the top of all MLS games going forward.

5. ESPN gets the inside track on US men's national team hype leading up to 2026 and women's 2023 and 2027 WCs.

6. Deal will be 20% over current deal. Last through the 2026 WC. MLS PR will include ESPN's costs of setting up local broadcast production camps in the total $150-200m figure

What ML/SUM will probably get.

1. Nobody wants to pay the entire cost of the package. It's too big.

2. It's broken up between multiple network partners (similar to now).

3. MLS has to re-start their local coverage and scramble to get local deals going again.

4. Fox will butcher USM and USW National Team games.

5. The deal will be worth something like $150m a year for everything and it'll be across ESPN/Univision/Fox Sports.

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