FC Dallas has become the first MLS club to stream its locally aired matches for free on its website.
“We’re dealing with a changing demographic and a modern fan that is used to multiscreen viewing and accessing content anywhere,” said Dan Hunt, FC Dallas president and co-owner. “We want to make sure that we’re providing as many platforms with FC Dallas content for our fans as possible.”
MLS, which with Univision struck a deal with Facebook this month to stream nationally aired matches, controls all teams’ local digital rights. For a club to use those rights, it must buy them from the league, a sum estimated at $100,000 annually, according to sources who declined to be named because the negotiations are confidential.
|The team said it is aiming at a changing demographic.
Hunt, who also declined to discuss specifics of the transaction, said Dallas began considering buying back its local digital rights about a year ago. Through its local TV deal, independent channel KTXA will air 24 of its 26 non-national broadcast games. The deal, however, does not pay a rights fee nor does it cover production costs. Hunt said KTXA, known locally as TXA21, supported the club’s decision to stream games.
Now, FC Dallas will offer a stream on its website, geo-locked to the Dallas-Fort Worth area that MLS has defined as its territory, for all 26 non-nationally aired matches, including two that will be available only on its site. Hunt said that streaming adds “minuscule additional expenses” compared with previous years, outside of the investment to obtain the rights.
“Our goal is to increase our reach and engage more people to watch our matches, which will make not only our digital rights more valuable but also our TV rights more valuable,” he said.
“We’re not doing this because we thought we could make more money, but this will also allow our partners to be further integrated into our digital content and on this platform, which should be of great value to them as well.”
The other MLS clubs that stream games do it directly through their deals with local TV partners and their distribution channels: Atlanta United and Sporting Kansas City with Fox Sports, New York Red Bulls with MSG Networks, New York City FC with YES Network, LA Galaxy with Spectrum SportsNet, and all three Canadian clubs — Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver — via the league’s overarching Canadian rights deal with TSN.
Any MLS match that is televised nationally on rights holders ESPN, Fox or Univision remains exclusive to those networks and their specific streaming platforms live. MLS also operates MLS Live, which live streams all the league’s out-of-market, regionally televised matches. While all nationally broadcast matches are blacked out on that platform for 48 hours, each team and its broadcast partner set their own specific blackout policy for MLS Live, with 10 clubs now having some form of a local blackout. MLS Live is available in both the U.S. and Canada for $79.99 for the full season.
Seth Bacon, MLS senior vice president of media, said the league supports any club that would want to follow Dallas. “As technology changes and our content continues to become more valuable, our local TV landscape is going to shift dramatically,” he said. “It’s only natural that we’re going to see more opportunity in the future to deliver our content in local markets.”
For Sporting Kansas City, its new multiyear deal with Fox Sports Kansas City will make its locally aired matches available on Fox Sports Go. While that will be the first time it has had a local streaming partner, it will also black out its games on MLS Live for viewers in their region, previously the only option for fans interested in streaming its local games. Sporting KC President Jake Reid said he did not previously consider buying the club’s local streaming rights, because prior broadcast partner KMCI-TV was not interested, and the club felt streaming games on its site would be competing with them.
Trey Fitz-Gerald, Real Salt Lake vice president of broadcasting and communications, said that while the club is interested in acquiring its streaming rights, it also has a strong relationship with KMYU/KUTV, which airs all of its local games over the air. RSL has no local blackouts on MLS Live.
“We’ve considered making that leap too, but it hasn’t been as necessary for us considering we’re nearly in 100 percent of homes with a digital antenna,” he said, adding that the club splits production costs and has an advertising partnership with the network. “Sometimes you don’t want to upset the apple cart.”