Thursday, July 21, 2022

Forbes: ESPN, FOX offering MLS a Deal

Jabari Young reported earlier today that ESPN and FOX are offering MLS $10 million and $7 million dollars a year, respectively, for four years. It was stated in the piece that the number of games each year would remain relatively the same as the previous deal.

My estimate on the previous MLS deal with ESPN and FOX was for a total of around $50 million per season ($90m - $25 to US Soccer - $15m from Univision = $50m) so this is a significant (near) 70% drop. What this tells us is that in 2014 networks gave MLS eight years to grow into that $50m a year, but fell well sort of expectations.

For MLS to have fulfilled its promise to ESPN and FOX they would have had to have TV viewership numbers averaging around 450k on ESPN and 300k on FOX (+70% above current numbers).


Probably to move things along. Obviously, MLS didn't say "YES" to the figures so the networks went public. Sometimes this is to embarrass one party or another, but I think in this case it is just to get MLS moving. It was reported not long ago that ESPN did not even bid on MLS, so I imagine they just want it done.


Jabari's piece mentions that Univision is still out there and I'm sure they are, but they were the first network MLS went to go negotiate with (likely) because they wanted a big Spanish Language partner for their new Leagues Cup. It didn't happen. I am a bit surprised nothing has been done there. It makes me wonder if something is in the oven for English Language rights / partners for Liga MX.


MLS has a boatload of things to sort out because they are building their TV production from the ground up. A complaint from MLS fans in the past has been the production value that networks provide and the fact that the league isn't promoted there. Well, that changes next season. It'll be up to Apple to get the word out and make the action on the pitch look good because, without exclusivity, ESPN and FOX will not be helping much.

This offer from linear networks is something Apple and MLS know is a necessity as a move to streaming only makes the league invisible. Of course streaming in some form is the future of TV, but for the foreseeable future, linear networks are the lifeblood of live events - that includes news, remember CNN+? I believe sports might have a similar fate if they are not careful in doing this.


MLS sidestepped a bunch of problems by jumping to a streaming network as a primary broadcast partner, but it also created a whole bunch of new challenges because the trail they are on leads to the wild west of steaming-only sports of which there really hasn't ever been a breakout star.

I consider this to be a reboot of sorts for MLS's television product. It's a risk for the league and one I don't think they really wanted to make, but it's where they are. They are learning that you can't just say you are the "next big thing..." you have to prove it.

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