SBJ/April 3-9, 2017/Leagues and Governing Bodies

USL says its new production arm is already paying off for league and clubs

The USL says it is already seeing benefits from its newly launched USL Productions arm.

The league, whose season began March 25, created the more than $10 million division in May 2016. Its new South Florida facility brought the production, broadcast and distribution facilities for all 30 teams in-house and on the same digital platform, allowing the league to both raise minimum standards on broadcasts as well as leverage the swath of content across social and digital networks. Tom Veit, USL executive vice president and chief marketing officer, oversees the division.

USL President Jake Edwards said as a result of rolling up the new production capabilities, the league has gone from two teams with local broadcast deals to 15, and others are in discussions.

Edwards said the ability to provide local channels with 16 home games with quality broadcast production, as well as 16 away games, has been a key negotiating point. It also has allowed teams to pick up additional sponsors and renew at higher rates because of the increased reach.

The league has also expanded its national deals. USL added to its deal with ESPN heading into the season, going from 20 games on ESPN3 in 2016 to more than 32 on both ESPN3 and ESPNU this season, as well as a content-sharing agreement on the ESPNFC platform. The league also was able to strike a deal with SiriusXM to have both a weekly live show and a game of the week on its soccer channel, SiriusXM FC, which the league produces.

Edwards declined to comment on the financial structure of the deals.

Edwards said the league is talking with potential digital distribution partners for more deals this season, including streaming on Facebook or other platforms. All league matches are available on its USL Match Center platform.

USL sees USL Productions and its digital-first strategy as key to the league’s goal of being one of the best second-division leagues in the world, Edwards said. “The real opportunity for us is to try and innovate and be ahead of the trend on the digital side,” he said. “When I think about a broadcast deal with a potential rights fee for the USL, I believe it will be on the digital side, not on the TV side.”

Edwards said the league also is looking into ways to further bolster the broadcast quality. It signed a new partnership with Opta around statistics and analytics on the broadcast, and is examining ways to better integrate social media and fan data.

By 2018, the USL will have another digital distribution partner in place to broadcast a large amount of its 500 games, Edwards said.

“This is a long-term project for us, and while we’re pleased with how things are trending so far. We’re only scratching the surface,” he said.

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