ESPN, Fox Bet Big On Future Of MLS With Combined Eight-Year, $720M TV Deal
ESPN President John Skipper yesterday acknowledged that the collective $720M commitment from his network, Fox and Univision for eight years of MLS and U.S. Soccer media rights is an investment in the sport's growth. Skipper, during a press conference announcing the deals in N.Y., said, "It's a futures buy. We're buying pork bellies. It's going to be more valuable over time." MLS also considered changing to the FIFA soccer schedule of August-May, but Commissioner Don Garber at yesterday's media rights announcement said that the league will keep its current format long-term. Garber: "From a weather perspective, I think it's impossible to change (to the global schedule)" (Christopher Botta, Staff Writer). Skipper said, "You will see ESPN turn towards a real emphasis on the domestic game in the next 8 years. We think this is the right time to drive it through." Fox Sports President & COO Eric Shanks: "We've already placed a big bet on the future with the World Cup. ... We know what we can do with this, and we know that this is a deal for the future, not just now" (CABLEFAX DAILY, 5/13). Skipper said, "We've been a little puzzled. Clearly when we did the last deal we would've expected to see a higher growth curve. We're kind of doubling down. We still think it's going to happen" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 5/13).
TIMING IS EVERYTHING: In N.Y., Richard Sandomir writes "everything aligned" for MLS to "make deals with ESPN, Fox and Univision worth a combined" $90M annually from '15-22. First, the market for sports rights "has been exploding." Second, Fox owns the rights to the '18 FIFA World Cup and "covets further soccer programming." Third, ESPN and Fox "recognize that the next decade for MLS might be brighter than its present." A change to the league’s national TV schedule "could elevate viewership." Shanks said, "We have a loyal and rabid fan base for MLS. We intend to expand that reach." Skipper: "We reach 115 million fans every week. It’s a question of where we turn on the promotional fire hose" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/13).