Deals with ESPN, Fox, and Univision will dish out $90 million per year for the rights to put Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer matches on live TV, as networks are taking the sport more seriously than ever.
The eight-year deals will see ESPN and Fox pay a combined average of $75 million, while Univision will pay $15 million for a Spanish-language version of telecasts, Sports Business Journal reports. That price tag is a massive increase on soccer's previous TV deal that only paid out about $18 million a year from ESPN, NBC, and Univision.
But those contracts expire after this year, opening the door for the five-fold price increase. "It's a statement about where the soccer market is and where Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer fit into the paradigm," MLS Commissioner Don Garber told the Journal.
Still, the price is pocket change for the behemoth that is ESPN, which pays close to $2 billion a season to broadcast one NFL game a week. In addition, it gives the young Fox Sports 1 network a foothold in the sport. And it leaves NBC out in the cold, which despite being heavily invested in English Premier League soccer, was unwilling to shell out the necessary cash, the Journal notes.
That $90 million isn't quite on par with the America's Big Four sports leagues: the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL, but the deal is recognition that soccer is encroaching ever closer. Despite declining MLS ratings, it's still a global game and enthusiasm should spike once again after this summer's World Cup. That makes them important enough for ESPN to buy up as an investment, perhaps even overpaying to keep NBC out of the fight.
Along with that cash, the big change in the deal is that soccer will get "Game of the Week" events with more regular schedules and predictable times, The New York Times writes. Previously, TV games appeared sporadically and were difficult for fans to plan around. With this deal, soccer announced it wants to be destination television. And ESPN, Fox, and Univision are happy to try to make that happen.