SBJ/June 3-9, 2013/Media

USA Today Sports Images aligns with MLS

Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

USA Today Sports Images has become the official photo partner of Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing, the league’s commercial arm.

Although photography work began at the start of the MLS season in March, the multiyear agreement between the parties was not finalized until last week.

MLS is the fifth sports property with a USA Today deal.
The agreement calls for USA Today Sports Images (a branch of the USA Today Sports Media Group) to be the preferred photo provider for all MLS clubs as well as the league’s sponsors and licensees. It will service all MLS editorial properties, including the league’s official website and Kick TV, MLS’s YouTube channel focused on international soccer coverage. Each of those outlets features still photos in addition to its video offerings.

The USA Today group will have at least one photographer at every MLS match and an increased presence at prime league events, such as the All-Star Game and MLS Cup title match. The agreement also includes select events managed by SUM, such as matches played by the Mexican national team.

“There is definitely an uptick in the amount of photographers we will have at our major events compared to our previous agreements,” said Maribeth Towers, senior vice president of consumer products for MLS and SUM.

Getty Images was MLS’s photo provider for the last five years. MLS sent out a request for proposals for photography service after the league’s agreement with Getty expired after last season.

“We chose USA Today for a number of reasons,” Towers said. “We were impressed by the level of excitement they brought to their proposal. Their customer service was at a high level. We liked their commitment to having a lot of photographers at our big events.”

Under terms of the agreement, MLS will receive royalties from payments made to USA Today Sports Images by media outlets for desired MLS photos.

Merrill Squires, the senior vice president of leagues and properties for the USA Today Sports Media Group, said the sports images group does not pay rights fees to leagues.

A dedicated MLS portal has been created by USA Today Sports Images on its digital platform, which was overhauled earlier this year for improved functionality and content management capability.

Although USA Today is the preferred photo provider of MLS under the terms of the new deal, the soccer league can still purchase photos from other sports photography providers, such as Getty and The Associated Press. The league’s deal also does not affect any agreements MLS clubs may have with team photographers in their markets.

Gannett, USA Today’s parent company, purchased U.S. Presswire, a sports photo syndicate, in September 2011. The service was rebranded as USA Today Sports Images last December. In publicity materials, USA Today Sports Images says its work includes “covering 10,000 events each year with a network of more than 300 professional photographers.”

The MLS agreement is USA Today Sports Images’ first with a sports property, but joins deals the group has with several top digital sports properties, including Yahoo, ESPN and CBS Sports.

Although USA Today reports on all of the sports properties with which its sports images branch has partnerships, the company says there are no conflicts of interest.

“It is definitely a church-and-state relationship,” Squires said.

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