SBD/January 10, 2014/Media

Sources: New MLS TV Deal With Fox/ESPN Could Be Worth $70M Annually

NBC begins its final season of MLS broadcasts on March 8

ESPN and Fox Sports have emerged as the front runners to sign a new rights deal with MLS, according to several sources. The sides are in advanced negotiations that would have MLS double its rights fees to an annual average of $70M per year for at least eight years. The two channels have been negotiating a joint bid with MLS, though sources caution that no deal is signed; the two sides are continuing to negotiate specific deal points. A source with direct knowledge of the negotiations said, "There's still a lot of work to be done on this. Don't write this as a done deal." One of the sticking points holding up the negotiations appears to center on the length of the deal. NBC Sports Group Friday said that it pulled out of the bidding process, leaving ESPN and Fox Sports as the remaining bidders. NBC released a statement to THE DAILY that said, "We've enjoyed our partnership with MLS. Don Garber and his team are building something very positive, and we wish them well." The MLS package includes U.S. Men's National Team World Cup qualifying home matches. It is not clear how these games would be split between FS1 and ESPN. The deal also will include TV Everywhere rights that would allow ESPN and Fox Sports to stream live games to authenticated users. The big rights fee increase comes as something of a surprise given MLS' recent viewership performance. The audience for 20 MLS matches on ESPN and ESPN2 in '13 dropped 29% from '12. NBCSN's 37 games averaged 112,000 viewers this season, an 8% decrease from '12 (Ourand & Botta, Staff Writers).

FOX TO SWOOP IN: In Philadelphia, Jonathan Tannenwald reported NBC "sincerely wanted to keep its relationship with MLS going," as the net "put in a considerable effort to have as many MLS-Premier League doubleheaders as possible in 2014, and to cross-promote MLS on an equivalent level with the EPL." The "number one factor in Fox's desire to get back on board" is the net's ownership of FIFA World Cup rights from '15-22. MLS' new set of deals "might not be broken out into 'primary' and 'secondary' packages," as the league has done in the past. Instead, it is "likely that the two deals will be closer to equal." It is not known "if the new deal will have a formal stipulation for the split of games" between FS1 and FS2 (PHILLY.com, 1/9).
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