So earlier this week Sports Business Journal, and others reported that MLS is asking Fox Soccer Channel for $20 million dollars a year to renew their current contract. The current deal signed in 2007 is reported to be $3 million a year, and the proposed deal is much larger than the current ESPN deal:
ESPN, which has MLS's top TV package, pays an average of $8.5 million a year through 2014 for both MLS and most U.S. national soccer team matches.
So the question has to be asked is "The Don" nuts for trying to get FSC to agree to such a deal? Sure he can make the point that MLS has added teams in some big markets since 2007, Seattle, Philly, and now Portland and Vancouver. He can point to his "pipe dream" of a second New York team, and the fact that the league is doing better in CONCACAF (we had 5 teams in the tournament, 4 in the group stage, and have 2 in the Quarterfinals). League attendance has done well despite a very soft economy, and we have seen the league become a place where some of the biggest names in the game are willing to call home.
more after the jump:
FSC will of course counter with the fact that their numbers are awful, average of just 53,000 viewers per MLS match last year (ESPN gets about 5 times that many). FSC has offered an increase to about $7 million a year, and the two sides are still talking. Of course FSC is part of that problem, they haven't convinced providers to include their channel in the regular packages, so only those who pay for the additional sports packages will get access to their channel. Then there is the debacle of FSC HD, which still isn't available on all the providers even if you are willing to pay for it. FSC is an afterthought of the Fox empire, and for a group that is busy running Sky Sports in the UK, it is clear that until the network takes FSC seriously the numbers probably won't improve.
MLS could help them out by adjusting their schedules enough to allow fans to watch matches on FSC, I am convinced that trying to have fans watch matches on Saturday between 7-9 EST is a losing battle as a majority of fans are probably on their way out to watch matches live or if their team is on the road they will be watching that match. The solution maybe earlier matches, I thought the TFC and Union day matches were fun to watch but FSC will only run those when the EPL season is over, could moving the matches to a different day work? We know that there will be more midweek matches with the new 34 match schedule, perhaps that would help?
I do think FSC has some other issues as well, their broadcast simply don't seem as polished as do the ones on ESPN2. I think their broadcast teams are better, but their overall production quality seems to be lacking. So the question is will they throw that kind of money around, and would that type of investment force them to deal with issues like availability, and quality of production?
MLS is hoping that they can lure Versus into the mix as it is easier to ask for a bigger dollar amount if there is more than one company trying to get the rights. I have thought for a long time that new blood as far as broadcast partners would be a good thing and versus isn't a premium channel and is available in 73 million homes, while FSC is around 34 million, and both lag ESPN and ESPN2 which is available in just under 100 million homes.
This is also a move by MLS to be able to ask for a huge contract from ESPN in 2014 when their current deal is up, as the league will likely be at 20 teams by then and as we saw during the World Cup soccer is increasing in popularity in the US and the rights to the US National Soccer teams are a very valuable piece of property.
Oh I can hear the Eurosnobs already going, well if you had promotion and relegation, a single table, no salary cap and blah, blah, blah the TV ratings would be higher, and I say flatly "BS". Yes the EPL has higher ratings, they also have a league of teams with huge amounts of debt and an audience in Europe that isn't in competition with other major sports (at least none like the NBA, MLB, NFL, or even the NHL- all with their own networks now).
Whichever network works out whatever deal with MLS, they need to ensure that both parties are willing to spend a good deal of money to promote the league beyond the core of fans that already exist, that is going to be a key to getting the fans who don't attend live matches interested in watching them on TV. This is also why improving the quality of the broadcasts is so very important as well, can/will FSC step up to the challenge or will the new blood of Versus be what helps propel MLS into better ratings?
OFF MY SOAPBOX