MLS announced a new and substantial TV deal with Fox Sports, ESPN and Univision today. That means some significant changes to broadcasts of our beloved league, so we take you through some of the details.
Where will matches be broadcast?
ESPN and Fox Sports will be broadcasting in English, and Univision continues as a partner.
ESPN's broadcasts will largely be on ESPN2, and they'll have at least 34 matches airing on Sundays around 5 p.m. eastern.
Fox Sports broadcasts will primarily be on Fox Sports 1, and they'll have at least 34 matches airing on Sundays around 7 p.m. eastern.
Univision will broadcast a minimum of 34 matches on Friday evenings, largely on UniMas.
What about local broadcasts?
Those won't be going away. In fact, Real Salt Lake has said that the deal won't be affecting their local deal. So unless we get considerably more matches broadcast nationally, we won't experience much change at all. That's a relief, because our over-the-air broadcasts are fantastic.
The press release issued by MLS makes it pretty clear that it's a strategic shift to capture an audience with regularly scheduled matches. They go so far as to call it a "doubleheader of MLS action" - four hours of soccer on Sundays doesn't sound so bad. It's hard to say exactly how it would play in Salt Lake City, but there will certainly be some unhappy folks.
What about the MLS Cup?
The Cup, along with the MLS All-Star Game, will switch between ESPN and Fox Sports 1.
What happens to MLS Live?
It'll go away in the U.S., which is pretty disappointing. What they call "out-of-market" package rights move to ESPN3 and WatchESPN, which narrows the availability slightly but would likely mean there's not a subscription cost.
It does sound like MLS Live will continue to exist internationally - or at least for Canadians, who get all the cool things.
How long is the deal?
Eight years. Awesome.
Why Fox and ESPN and not NBC Sports?
Don Garber had a great statement during the press conference, saying that MLS was looking for "partners that were aligned with our brand ..." and focused on a commitment to "the domestic game." If that's not a jab at NBC Sports' dominant focus on their English Premier League rights, I don't know what is.