Business Thoughts on the MLS Schedule

nbcMonths earlier than expected, Major League Soccer released its 2014 schedule on Monday.  In the last year of its television deals, the league served up a number of treats for its broadcast partners in its 2014 release.  MLS also provided a great treat for fans, by creating a regular Friday night match on NBCSN. This will provide both the network and supporters with the consistency they crave on a night that should provide limited sports competition, allow for fans to attend games and permit great atmosphere.

Some of the other key business points from the release include:   ESPN will televise 20 regular season games on its English language networks,with five of the games on the flagship network.   NBC, in its third season as a partner with MLS will televise 41 regular season games with 3 of those matches on the broadcast version of NBC.  There will also be two more MLS wrap-around shows on the NBCSN (although unfortunately there will be MLS Breakaway on opening day).   There will also be MLS/Premier League double headers which will allow for audiences to stay with soccer in late morning/early afternoon.  NBC also gets the benefit of some exclusive time slots eliminating competition with other MLS games (although the value of that concession from the league remains to be seen).

Univision will have 28 games over its various networks, including UniMas and Univision Deportes.  In Canada,  there will be more than 60 combined English and French language telecasts.

The league will again take a two week break for the group stage of the World Cup, while ESPN will showcase Portland and Seattle on the same day as the World Cup Final.  ESPN will wait almost three months for its first telecast, but will squeeze six games into July.

As we noted above, this is a big year for MLS and its network partners. Of course, these negotiations are already underway.   Recall what we noted in October, when SBJ reported that Major League Soccer had started negotiating its next television deal with current partners ESPN and NBC Sports.  SBJ reported that both networks were in exclusive negotiating windows to re-up their deals before the league’s rights are open to all bidders.  Recall that MLS intentionally set its deals to expire at the end of the 2014 season in order to capitalize on the buzz surrounding the World Cup next Summer.  However, the exclusive window provides ESPN and NBC an opportunity to parlay their current relationship into something longer term.