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Major League Soccer announces a major new TV Deal - Hello NBC

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OK, so for years I have complained about the TV coverage MLS gets, many aspects of it but for the first time in a very long time.  Good things appear to be happening, so it was late last week the Variety reported the following about MLS TV ratings and how important they are to MLS:

Every week, MLS execs convene to talk statistics -- and not those tallied on the field. They huddle with broadcast partners ESPN and Fox Soccer, along with regional sports nets that carry each club's local contests to discuss every aspect of the league's coverage on television, including timeslots, promotional packages for fans and even which players to highlight in interviews and features.

variety.com

    which is no surprise because the ratings are exactly gang busters:

Last year's MLS Cup championship between Colorado and Dallas drew 1.1 million viewers, down 44% from the previous season's final, featuring Real Salt Lake and a Los Angeles team that included English star David Beckham. Viewership for ESPN2's MLS coverage this season has averaged 237,000 viewers through the end of July, a drop of 6% compared with 2010, according to ESPN.    

variety.com

It was funny that the name of the article was "Can TV soccer kick second-class status" and today it appears that MLS has taken a large step in the right direction by announcing that NBS/Versus will be replacing Fox Soccer as one of their major TV partners.

Details after the jump:

So here is the official press release from MLS:

MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER AND NBC SPORTS GROUP

ANNOUNCE MULTI-YEAR PARTNERSHIP 

NBC & NBC Sports Network to Televise 49 Games per Season,

Including Four Appearances by U.S. Men's National Team 

Media Availability Prior to U.S. Men's National Team Game Tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET 

NEW YORK (August 10, 2011) - Major League Soccer (MLS) and the NBC Sports Group today announced a three-year media rights agreement, which commences at the start of the 2012 MLS season. The partnership calls for 45 MLS games and four U.S. Men's National Team contests to be televised live across both NBC and NBC Sports Network each season. This marks the first rights deal for the newly-named cable channel that will be re-branded from VERSUS on January 2, 2012.  The announcement was made today by MLS Commissioner and Soccer United Marketing CEO Don Garber and Mark Lazarus, Chairman, NBC Sports Group. 

"Everyone at the NBC Sports Group is thrilled to begin this partnership with Major League Soccer," said Lazarus. "MLS is a perfect fit for our new group, and we are uniquely positioned to help grow soccer in the United States with extensive coverage on NBC Sports Network, significant programming on the broadcast network and our growing digital platforms. Additionally, this agreement complements the partnerships that five of our regional sports networks have with their local MLS teams." 

Each season, NBC will broadcast two regular-season MLS games, two playoff games and two appearances by the U.S. Men's National Team, marking the first time four MLS matches will be broadcast on English-language network television since 2002. The NBC Sports Network will televise 38 regular-season games, three playoff games and two U.S. Men's National Team matches. All telecasts on NBC and NBC Sports Network will consist of pre-game and post-game coverage. According to the agreement, the NBC Sports Group obtains digital rights across all platforms and devices for the games it televises.  

"Our new partnership with the NBC Sports Group is a significant step forward for Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer," said MLS Commissioner and Soccer United Marketing CEO Don Garber.  "The NBC Sports Group is world-renowned for its award-winning coverage, superb broadcast quality and promotional expertise. We are excited to be part of NBC's ambitious plans for soccer, and look forward to reaching a considerable audience on multiple platforms." 

Featuring an exciting mix of players, including world-class stars such as Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Thierry Henry, MLS is one of the nation's fastest growing sports properties. It has seen considerable growth across many metrics, including number of teams (10 clubs in 2004 to 19 in 2012) and new stadiums (two soccer stadiums in 2004 to having 15 of 19 clubs playing in venues built with soccer in mind, including new soccer stadiums in Houston and Montreal next year). This season, the League is enjoying the highest average attendance and largest number of corporate sponsors in its 16-year history. 

Along with already-established MLS partnerships with five Comcast SportsNets (California, Chicago, Mid-Atlantic, New England and Philadelphia), this agreement provides the league with coverage across the NBC Sports Group's unique four-tier portfolio of assets: broadcast network, national cable, regional sports networks and digital platforms.

A couple of things jump out at me FSC had 31 matches in 2011, NBC will have 45 including both their main network (can you say New York vs. LA Galaxy)?   ESPN is scheduled to broadcast just 21 MLS matches.  So there is a jump in quantity for sure.  Now Versus will be rebranded but the reality is that it has twice as many households as Fox Soccer does, which should result in a nice bump in ratings for those matches.  They also are in more households in High Definition which will be better for fans, and hopefully ratings as well.  It was back in Feb. of last year that I pointed to the need for a new MLS TV partner, and it looks like finally we have one.  Now I am hoping that this will end up as positive as it can be, but there are a lot of details still to be determined.

Yes for those of you who thought I couldn't write anything nice about a decision made by MLS and Don Garber, ha ha, I did it.

I will have some more thoughts about this move, along with some numbers about NBS and Versus in the next 24 hours, but since I have a day job and my lunch is over, I am 

OFF MY SOAPBOX