SBJ/September 25 - October 1, 2006/This Weeks News

MLS snags Univision for Spanish rights

Major League Soccer found a Spanish-language home for next season — the first involving a rights fee in its 11-year history — as Univision completed an eight-year, nearly $80 million agreement to broadcast the league’s games.

Univision joins ABC/ESPN, Fox Soccer Channel and HDNet as MLS broadcast partners in deals that combine to pay the league more than $20 million a year, the first television rights fees the league has received since its inception in 1996.

Soccer United Marketing, the league’s marketing arm, brokered the deal, which was set to be announced today.

MLS will get $9 million next year in the deal, close to the amount it’s getting from ESPN in its eight-year deal (see chart). In return, Univision has the Spanish-language rights to televise 25 regular-season MLS games a year as well as the MLS All-Star Game, MLS Cup, 10 U.S. men’s national team matches and five international games held in the U.S., such as the Ecuador-Peru match held Sept. 7 at Giants Stadium. SUM also controls the rights to the U.S. national team.

The network also gets online and wireless rights as part of the deal.

“To have our most respected Spanish-language broadcaster televising our games is a very important statement about the MLS, far more than I think people understand,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. “They are the influencer of the Spanish-speaking community in this country, and it’s not just about televising games. It’s about influencing the way we are perceived among Hispanics.”

TeleFutura, Univision’s sister network with a penetration of 86 percent of Hispanic households in the U.S., will air most of the games in prime time on Sunday nights. Additionally, MLS game highlights will appear on Univision’s “Republica Deportiva,” a program similar to FSN’s “Best Damn Sports Show Period,” and TeleFutura’s “Contacto Deportivo,” according to the league.

The TV rights revenue marks a new source of income for the MLS. Before the latest round of deals, the league functioned under revenue-sharing arrangements where it produced all televised games and sold advertising inventory as well. The newfound revenue offers the league “breathing room,” Garber said.

“We’re looking to reinvest it in a variety of different areas, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing to reduce some of our owners’ losses, either.”

MLS on TV

Network
No. of years
ESPN/ABC
8
What they got: 26 regular-season games (primarily on Thursday nights); 3 playoff matches; the season opener on ABC; the All-Star Game and MLS Cup on ABC; men’s and women’s national team matches; World Cup qualifiers; MLS draft; multimedia elements for ESPN360, Mobile ESPN, ESPN Deportes and other platforms
Univision
8
What they got: 25 regular-season games; 3 playoff matches; 10 U.S. men's national team matches; 5 international games held in the U.S.; MLS game highlights on two sports programs; online and wireless rights
Fox Soccer Channel
11
What they got: MLS Game of the Week on Saturday nights; 3 playoff matches; 2 men's and 2 women's national team games a year through 2010; 3 international friendly matches; online and wireless rights
HDNet
3
What they got: 26 regular-season games, 13 of those being exclusive; up to 3 postseason games
Source: SportsBusiness Journal  
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