FOX Wins Big

The big news last week was the announcement that FOX was awarded the English language rights to the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups.  FOX outbid NBC and ESPN to claim the rights for approximately $400 million dollars.  The Spanish language rights were won by Telemundo for an estimated $400 million.  The combined $1 billion bids shatters FIFA records and confirms both stations as primary player in the soccer broadcast arena.  The package includes rights to the Womens’ World Cup events in intervening years and rights to various youth World Cups.  In 2005, ESPN paid $100 million for the English-language rights to the 2010 and 2014 games. Univision paid $325 million for the Spanish-language rights.  US rights remain the most expensive in the world.

We’ve received feedback from fans via both e-mail and comment with one simple question.  What does it mean for fans of Major League Soccer?  ESPN is the biggest name in sports media and its promotional might reaches into the living rooms and pockets of the major consumers of sports.   Although fans often complain about the lack of soccer focus on the Worldwide leader, ESPN does offer occasional MLS highlights, includes soccer content on its shows and cross promotes the league through its other soccer properties.

In 2014 the ESPN and newly signed NBC rights deals with the league expire and the Fox relationship will have long become a memory.  Will ESPN and NBC have an interest in MLS with no World Cup property to promote?   Fans of Major League Soccer are probably right to be concerned.  MLS  is not ratings juggernaut for ESPN and despite the network’s much documented interest in soccer via John Skipper, the league needs ESPN more than ESPN needs the league.  NHL fans still believe that ESPN’s failure to secure rights to that property caused the NHL to largely disappear from network broadcasts.   ESPN has the power to keep MLS on the minds of the mainstream spots fan in the US.

Yet all is not lost.  If MLS ratings grow over the next three years, the league can still be a valuable property for a broadcast partner.  Moreover, ESPN does aggressively promote properties (e.g. softball, little league) that are not tied to a bigger event.  On the NBC side, the network will need attractive live sports coverage for its new sports network.  MLS programming can fill hours of vacant prime time space with valuable live sports.  Unfortunately, only time will tell if the new FOX deal spells doom for MLS.

One Response

  1. FOX was the best deal for FIFA and for the MLS!
    For FIFA because FOX outbid NBC and ESPN, more cash in tough times.
    For MLS because with both national networks disputing this bigger property, the main consequence could be a lower interess in promoting the league, so if both losing, both have a different motivation to make a better job…

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