SBJ/April 9 - 15, 2007/SBJ In Depth

A year of firsts in TV deals

For the first 11 years of its existence, Major League Soccer never received TV rights fees, but that will change this year when ESPN, Univision, Fox Soccer Channel and HDNet combine to pay the league more than $20 million.

ESPN is promoting its coverage under a newly
branded night, “MLS Primetime Thursday.”

The league is optimistic that the new television rights agreements will deliver more promotional support, so much so it elected not to have a branded campaign of its own. It appears the move may be valid.

ESPN is promoting its coverage under a newly branded night, “MLS Primetime Thursday” — an exclusive 7:30 p.m. window for games scheduled to be shown on ESPN2. Spots using the theme “You’re a fan, you just don’t know it yet” will run on all ESPN networks promoting the night. There also will be ads in print and on radio.

The network also plans to leverage some of its other assets in promoting the league by having star players such as Landon Donovan appear as guests on “Cold Pizza” or having shows such as “PTI” debate whether MLS will be popular.

Univision has thrown significant promotional energy into the league, too. The Spanish-language media company created “Sueno MLS,” which allowed 2,000 contestants to try out for an open roster spot with Chivas USA. The monthlong trial was featured on “Republica Deportiva,” a program similar to FSN’s “Best Damn Sports Show Period.”

Fox Soccer Channel will put broader emphasis on the league, as the network plans to offer more than three hours of MLS coverage each Saturday. A live half-hour pregame and postgame show will sandwich each of its eight games in an exclusive time slot on Saturday nights.

Supplemental coverage will be offered on “Fox Sports World Report” throughout the week, and game highlights will appear on Wednesday nights on a program called “MLS Pulse.”

Though HDNet has not outlined its promotional plans for the season, it did air an MLS preview show for the first time in its five years covering the league. It also has doubled its distribution and now reaches 5 million households, which should boost the league’s exposure.

MLS television rights

Number of years: 8
Annual rights fee: $7 million-$8 million
Rights: 26 regular-season games (primarily on Thursday nights); three playoff matches; season opener on ABC; 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

Number of years: 8
Annual rights fee: $9 million-$10 million
Rights: 25 regular-season games; three playoff matches; 10 U.S. men’s national team matches; five international games held in the United States; MLS game highlights on two sports programs; online and wireless rights

Number of years: 11
Annual rights fee: $2.2 million
Rights: MLS Game of the Week on Saturday nights; three playoff matches; two men’s and two women’s national team games a year through 2010; three international friendly matches; online and wireless rights

Number of years: 3
Annual rights fee: $2.5 million
Rights: 26 regular-season games, 13 of those being exclusive; up to three postseason games

Source: SportsBusiness Journal research


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