MLS Strikes a Deal: A Closer Look

As most American soccer fans are now aware, MLS and NBC have announced a three year television rights agreement that will put Major League Soccer on the Peacock and its affiliated sports channel from 2012-2014.  The three year deal is worth an estimated 10-12 million dollars per year and will replace the league’s current $6 million + deal with FSC.  As part of the agreement, NBC and Versus (soon to be NBC Sports Network), will air regular season and playoff matches from MLS and USMNT games.  Specifically, the cable channel will air 38 regular season games, 3 playoff games and 2 USMNT matches.  The broadcast network will show 2 regular season matches, 2 playoff games and 2 USMNT games in each of the three seasons.  All games will include pre and post game coverage.

The deal is obviously a coup for MLS which now moves from a network in less than 40 million homes to one almost 80 million homes.  Games on NBCSN are more readily available in HD and are typically placed in a more prominent line-up location than FSC, which is typically relegated to a special tier and a high number designation. Games on NBC’s broadcast outlet  will reach almost every American home and will mark a return to over the air telvision after a multi-year absence.  NBC has also promised to promote its MLS coverage across multiple programs and broadcasts.

The promotion aspect is key.  According to Commissioner Garber and NBC representatives, NBC’s promotional efforts will include references on Sunday Night Football, Notre Dame games and more.  NBC now has rights to three of the major team professional sports and its cross promotional efforts can only benefit Major League Soccer.

MLS has timed the expiration of its newest deal to coincide with the end of the ESPN and Univision deals as well.  Conventional wisdom suggests that this is a calculated risk that will allow the league to maximize it s future tv revenue by negotiating rights deals in the glow of a World Cup year.  However, that approach puts MLS in the unenviable position of entering the negotiations with no security blanket.  If one its primary partners declines to participate in the discussions, the league will lack leverage.

It also appears that the big loser is Fox Soccer.  Days away from its rebrand, the network has lost its toehold in America’s premier soccer league and creates an enormous hole in the network’s Summer lineup.