SBD/August 11, 2011/Media

NBC Partnership Gives MLS The Platform To Grow Its Fan Base

MLS' three broadcast contracts all expire after the '14 season

The new broadcast partnership between MLS and NBC provides the league with a "chance to grow its base," according to Paul Kennedy of SOCCER AMERICA. MLS Commissioner Don Garber said that the league "was ready to return to English-language network television, from which it has been absent during the regular season" since '08. NBC Sports President of Programming Jon Miller said, "We won’t just be promoting Major League Soccer inside soccer games. We’ll be promoting Major League Soccer inside Notre Dame football games, the NHL, Indy Car, PGA Tour golf, obviously the Olympics next summer." Kennedy notes MLS offers "attractive demographics and what Miller termed 'blue chip' sponsors" for NBC and Versus, which will be renamed NBC Sports Network next year. Garber and Miller "go back together to Garber's days with the NFL," and the MLS commissioner indicated that the deal "came together quickly" (SOCCERAMERICA.com, 8/11). Miller said one of things that "worked in our favor is that several of the owners” of MLS teams also own NFL and/or NHL teams. Miller: "Those owners have seen what we do when NBC Sports puts their marketing and promotional muscle behind something. We bring something so unique to the table that you can’t get anywhere else” (BROADCASTINGCABLE.com, 8/10).

NO KNOCK ON FOX SOCCER: NBC picks up the MLS package from Fox Soccer starting next season, and Garber said yesterday, "This was not a negative statement about Fox Soccer, it’s a positive statement about NBC Sports and its newly branded network. Fox has done a terrific job promoting [the] sport, and we hope to keep working with them." In N.Y., Jack Bell noted MLS' broadcast deals with NBC, ESPN and Univision all expire at the end of the '14 season. Garber said the timing was the "key thing" in the NBC deal. Asked if plans going forward could include an MLS network, Garber said, "It's too early to comment" (NYTIMES.com, 8/10).

CHANGING DIRECTIONS: In Tacoma, Don Ruiz writes the national profile of MLS "took a couple of steps forward" yesterday thanks to the NBC partnership. Sounders minority Owner & GM Adrian Hanauer said, "The league continues to gain momentum, to gain credibility. ... It’s exciting. (These networks are) in a lot more homes, which ultimately is good for us. I think Fox has been a very good partner … but with the infrastructure and the capacity to promote our league within the NBC family of networks, I think it will end up being a good thing" (Tacoma NEWS TRIBUNE, 8/11). SI.com's Richard Deitsch noted while Fox Soccer "had carried MLS since 2003, the network's primary focus has always been on its heavy inventory of international soccer, particularly the English Premier League." That focus "clearly irked MLS officials." One of the "attractions of a move to NBC is the number of homes the network's properties can offer." Versus is in 76 million homes in August while Fox Soccer is in around 40 million. An NBC spokesperson said that "no announcers have been named for the new package and that such an announcement is likely months away" (SI.com, 8/10). In L.A., Joe Flint wrote the MLS/NBC partnership "is a blow to Fox Sports." Landing the MLS package is NBC Sports Group's "latest move in a push to compete more aggressively" with ESPN and Fox Sports. Flint noted the "next big fish that NBC Sports will try to land is the NFL's new eight-game package of Thursday night games" (LATIMES.com, 8/10). Meanwhile, DAILY VARIETY's Josh Chetwynd examined the state of soccer on TV in the U.S. under the header, "Can TV Soccer Kick Second-Class Status? Ratings Rise, Coverage Grows, But U.S. League Is Key" (DAILY VARIETY, 8/6).

WIN FOR MLS: Following yesterday's MLS-NBC announcement, DC United Senior VP/Marketing Communications Doug Hicks wrote on Twitter, "This is a big deal for our sport in this country. Congrats to all involved. ... I've long admired VS work with the NHL and am looking forward to working with them to showcase dcunited." Dynamo President Chris Canetti wrote, "MLS lands TV deal with NBC Sports. Another great sign of growth for our league and sport." IMG Consulting Senior VP Tim McGhee wrote, "MLS deal w/NBC Sports a win for both sides. Another major league property for NBC & potential for great exposure for league." The Boston Herald's Kyle McCarthy: "NBC Sports deal is a big step forward for MLS. The shift is probably a good fiscal move for FOX Soccer as well. ... MLS has done a nice job of setting up a possible rights battle between ESPN and NBC Sports in 2014. Ratings must grow to spark it, though." But Grande Sports World Marketing Manager Vedran Agovic wrote, “Love the move but NBC needs to broadcast more than two regular season MLS games. Por favor.”

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Media, NBC, MLS, Soccer

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