SBJ/Dec. 20-26, 2010/This Week's Issue

MLS asking FSC for $20M a year

Major League Soccer has asked Fox Soccer Channel to renew its TV deal at $20 million a year — nearly seven times more than the $3 million that FSC has paid annually since 2007, according to several sources.

MLS’s renewal request is considerably higher than the $7 million-a-year deal that FSC already has offered. If accepted, the $20 million figure would make the Fox Soccer package MLS’s biggest media deal to date even though it covers some of the league’s least-viewed games.

ESPN, which has MLS’s top TV package, pays an average of $8.5 million a year through 2014 for both MLS and most U.S. national soccer team matches.


GETTY IMAGES

The FSC package of MLS games includes
weekly Saturday night matchups and two
U.S. men's national team games.

FSC and MLS remain far apart but are talking about renewing the package that ended this year.

MLS brought in media veteran Brian Bedol as a consultant last summer to help develop the league’s media strategy, including helping to negotiate this deal.

The two sides are negotiating for the league’s third TV package — behind the ones sold to ESPN and Univision. The FSC package includes weekly Saturday night games and two U.S. men’s national team non-qualifying games.

But the dollar figure MLS gets for this package is critically important for the league because it will set the market for future negotiations around MLS’s bigger media packages from ESPN and Univision, whose MLS rights also expire in 2014.

MLS is looking to significantly boost its rights fee to correspond with the investment it has made in growing the league. It has expanded into new markets (Seattle and Philadelphia), built new stadiums (Red Bull Arena and Rio Tinto Stadium) and signed high-profile players (David Beckham and Thierry Henry).

That level of investment, however, has not translated to the league’s TV ratings, which have disappointed MLS’s network partners.

The big question in the current negotiations deals with Versus, which had a preliminary meeting with MLS in September. At the time, Versus executives made a pitch to the league that it was looking to treat MLS with the same immersive approach that it has used successfully with the NHL.

Versus, however, has not met with the league since then, and talks did not advance to the point where specific rights fees were discussed, according to a Versus executive who asked not to be identified.

Versus officially declined to comment for this story. MLS also declined to comment.

Fox Soccer’s David Nathanson said: “We don’t negotiate in the press. We value our relationship with MLS and look forward to continuing to discuss our future together.”

It’s important for MLS to have another network, like Versus, enter the negotiations and potentially drive the rights bid up.

That type of competition could counteract the impact of TV ratings. The league’s main TV partner, ESPN2, averaged just 249,000 viewers for its 25 MLS games this season, down 12.3 percent from the previous year. Fox Soccer’s Saturday night rights were flat, averaging 53,000 viewers.

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