Major League Soccer’s Media-Rights Trifecta: ESPN, Fox Sports, Univision Deportes

In a massive day in league history, Major League Soccer formally announced the signing of its new television- and media-rights deal on Monday. Under a new eight-year pact with MLS and U.S. Soccer, ESPN, Fox Sports, and Univision Deportes will carry matches for both entities through 2022.

Achieving one of league Commissioner Don Garber’s chief goals, MLS will have an exclusive MLS Match of the Week on each of the three networks. It’s the first such destination night for MLS.

“We wanted partners that would align with our brand, partners that were committed to the domestic game, committed to supporting our league, and who would do everything to make our league a driving sport in our country,” said Garber in announcing the deal.

The programming side is anchored by a doubleheader of ESPN and Fox Sports 1 on Sundays at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. ET, respectively. The Univision family of networks will televise a game of the week on Friday evenings — primarily on UniMás — and a wrap-up show on Sundays. The Friday-night match on the Univision networks will be the first time a Spanish-language network will have its own exclusive night with a major professional sports league based in the U.S.

More than 125 MLS matches will be televised annually on the three networks.

According to Sports Business Journal, ESPN and Fox will pay a combined $75 million per year on average for the rights, approximately five times more than their previous rights deal. It’s an impressive haul pulled in by MLS’s Business Ventures Group, which is headed by department President/Managing Director Gary Stevenson.

ESPN has broadcast MLS matches since the league’s inception in 1996, and the new agreement will extend their partnership to 27 seasons.

“We’re thrilled with this deal,” says ESPN President John Skipper. “We think what Don [Garber] has done with the MLS and what U.S. Soccer has done has really elevated the game in this country. You’ll see ESPN make a turn to put a real emphasis on the domestic game in the next eight years. We think it’s the right time to drive it through. We obviously make this deal because we are bullish on where this sport is going overall and where the domestic league and our national teams are going.”

Fox Sports returns to MLS after having broadcast the league’s games from 2003 to 2011.

“We’ve already placed a bet on the future with the World Cup,” says Eric Shanks, COO/Executive Producer, Fox Sports. “This investment in MLS is an investment in what collectively we can do for the domestic game and for the U.S. National Teams. We know what we can do with this, and we know that this is a deal for the future, not just for right now.”

The details of the agreement also feature an interesting digital-rights arrangement. Major League Soccer’s out-of-market package, currently serviced through the MLS Live and MLS Direct Kick packages, will be available to a wider audience via ESPN3. Featuring more than 200 MLS matches each year, the MLS out-of-market package will also be available via over-the-top services, such as Google Play, iTunes Apple TV, Roku, and more.

The new deal also brings an end to MLS’s relationship with NBC Sports Group at the conclusion of the 2014 season. NBC will now focus its soccer programming fully on the Barclays Premier League.

U.S. National Team Rights
All three networks will televise both U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Team matches.

ESPN and Fox Sports 1 will split the English-language Men’s National Team broadcast package of approximately 10 games per year and will share the schedule of Women’s National Team games.

Univision Deportes is the exclusive Spanish-language home of U.S. Soccer, broadcasting all U.S. Men’s National Team games and a minimum of four Women’s National Team matches each year during the term.

Here’s a breakdown of the agreements:

ESPN Networks

  • Minimum of 34 regular-season games, on an exclusive basis, on Sundays at 5 p.m. primarily on ESPN2
  • ESPN and Fox Sports will share MLS Cup Playoff matches outside the two Univision games
  • MLS Cup will alternate each year between ESPN and Fox Sports 1.
  • The AT&T MLS All-Star Game will alternate each year between ESPN and Fox Sports 1.
  • ESPN and Fox Sports will split all U.S. Soccer matches.
  • ESPN3 will carry the matches in MLS’s out-of-market package.
  • ESPN Radio and ESPN Deportes Radio networks have the rights to broadcast MLS matches.ESPN obtains digital rights across all platforms and devices for the games it televises.

Fox Sports

  • Minimum of 34 regular-season games, on an exclusive basis, on Sundays at 7 p.m., primarily on Fox Sports 1
  • Fox Sports 1 and ESPN will split MLS Cup Playoff matches outside of the two Univision games.
  • MLS Cup will alternate each year between Fox Sports 1 and ESPN.
  • The AT&T MLS All-Star Game will alternate each year between Fox Sports 1 and ESPN.
  • Fox Sports obtains digital rights across all platforms and devices for the games it televises, including its Fox Sports GO mobile app and FoxSportsGO.com for desktops.
  • Fox Sports obtains digital-highlight rights for MLS’s out-of-market package via Fox Sports digital platforms.
  • ESPN and Fox Sports 1 will split all U.S. Soccer matches.
  • Fox Sports Radio network has the opportunity to broadcast MLS matches.

Univision

  • Minimum of 34 regular-season games, on an exclusive basis, on Friday evenings usually at 7 p.m. or 11 p.m. T, primarily on UniMás
  • Two MLS Cup Playoff matches per season, on an exclusive basis, during the knockout round
  • The AT&T MLS All-Star Game and MLS Cup, exclusively in Spanish on Univision
  • All U.S. Soccer Men’s National Team matches, plus a minimum of four U.S. Women’s National Team matches each year
  • Exclusive MLS matches on the Univision networks will include Second Audio Program (SAP), providing viewers the option of watching games in English. English audio also will be available for matches televised on Univision’s digital platforms
  • Univision Deportes Network (UDN), Univision’s 24-hour sports network, will feature five to seven consecutive Friday doubleheaders in May and June that will be surrounded by two hours of MLS ancillary programming.
  • UDN will televise a weekly Sunday MLS wrap-up program and a condensed MLS match of the week.
  • Univision obtains digital rights across all platforms and mobile devices for the games it televises.