NBC Sports Group Lands Major League Soccer TV, Digital Rights

NBC Sports Group has added yet another piece to its rapidly growing portfolio of live sports programming, inking a three-year multi-platform rights deal with Major League Soccer. The deal, which kicks off at the start of the 2012 MLS season, calls for 45 MLS games and and four U.S. Men’s National Team matches to be televised live on NBC and the soon-to-be-rebranded NBC Sports Network (currently Versus).

Under terms of the agreement, NBC will broadcast two regular-season MLS games, two playoff games, and two appearances by the U.S. Men’s National Team. The NBC Sports Network, which officially will drop the Versus name and logo on Jan. 2, 2012, will televise 38 regular-season games, three playoff games, and two U.S. Men’s National Team matches. The overall deal is rumored to be worth $10 million annually.

The NBC Sports Group will also hold digital rights across all platforms and devices for the games it televises. Five Comcast SportsNet RSNs (California, Chicago, Mid-Atlantic, New England, and Philadelphia), which fall under the NBC Sports Group umbrella, already hold regional MLS team rights.

“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,” Mark Lazarus, Chairman, NBC Sports Group. “Additionally, this agreement complements the partnerships that five of our regional sports networks have with their local MLS teams.”

For NBC Sports Group, the deal marks yet another chapter in a blitzkrieg of rights acquisitions since NBC Universal was officially acquired by Comcast in January. The MLS deal comes on the heels of exclusive agreements to televise the NHL regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs, as well as the 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020 Olympic Games. Despite the onslaught of programming acquisitions, the Peacock’s sports sector has also seen its share of low points during the first half of 2011, including the departures of NBC stalwarts Dick Ebersol and Ken Schanzer, as well as Wimbledon’s migration exclusively to ESPN.

As for MLS, the deal signals the league’s widest television exposure to date and a return to English-language broadcast television for the first time since 2008. It also ends an up-and-down relationship with Fox Soccer that resulted in a makeshift one-year rights agreement before the start of 2011 season. All telecasts on NBC and NBC Sports Network will consist of pre-game and post-game coverage, as was the case last year on Fox Soccer’s Soccer Night in America.

The agreement also sets up a potentially lucrative opportunity in 2014, when the NBC Sports Group agreement will expire concurrently with MLS’s ESPN and Univision deals. At that time, MLS is expected to consolidate its rights into two more inclusive packages (English and Spanish-language) and/or launch its own cable network in the vein of the NFL, NBA, NHL, and Major League Baseball.

“Our new partnership with the NBC Sports Group is a significant step forward for Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer,” says 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.”