Over the next couple of days (and in no particular order), we will present the top American soccer business stories of the year. Early next week we will conduct a vote to see which of the entrants you think is the winner. Yesterday we looked at the arrival of Portland and the re-birth of Kansas City. Today we will look at the broadcast world, where NBC has replaced Fox Soccer as the second tier broadcast partner of Major League Soccer.
In August MLS and NBC 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 will make MLS one of the primary sports primaries on the re-branded NBC Sports Network which will debut at the start of 2012. 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 and these promotions have started with ads on Sunday Night Football and other NBC properties.
When FIFA put US television rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup’s up for bid, it was assumed that ESPN or NBC would be the big players for English rights. Yet when the bids were in, neither the Worldwide Leader nor MLS’s newest partner were left standing. FOX outbid NBC and ESPN to claim the rights for approximately $450 million dollars. The Spanish language rights were won by Telemundo for an estimated $600 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.
The network is also aggressively pushing its EPL property. As we have reported, the network has seen great ratings from its re-broadcasts of the EPL and the live telecasts promises to generate an even larger audience. FOX’s broadcast of Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat of Chelsea on Nov. 20 delivered a 1.1 household rating, with 1.67 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. Two weeks after the January 22 match on Championship Sunday, the network will offer live coverage of Chelsea and Manchester United as part of the lead-up to its Superbowl telecast.