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Volume 21 No. 30
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Hulu, Verizon, YouTube TV among digital companies kicking tires on D.C. United local rights

Even before soccer superstar Wayne Rooney came to town, D.C. United had been shopping its local media rights to several digital media companies.

 

Hulu showed interest earlier this year, before the new Audi Field hosted its first game, sources said. Verizon and YouTube TV also showed interest.

 

The presence of the 32-year-old Scouser on the team should increase the value of those rights. But the fact that digital media companies are showing interest in the rights marks the continuation of a leaguewide trend. MLS teams in Seattle, Orlando and Los Angeles have cut deals with YouTube TV. The Chicago Fire has a streaming deal with ESPN+.

 

D.C. United’s current deal with Sinclair ends after this season. The team signed a deal with Sinclair, which owns the local ABC affiliate and a local cable news channel, in 2016. It spent the previous 19 years on NBC Sports Washington. According to SBJ’s RG Live, Sinclair does not pay a rights fee and shares the costs with the team, which oversees sales.

 

While MLS teams have a lot of latitude in selling their local TV rights, the league office steps in to handle negotiations whenever local digital rights are considered.

 

The arrival of Wayne Rooney should fuel interest in D.C. United’s local media rights.
Photo: Getty Images

“Similar to the NHL, NBA and MLB, the digital rights are a league-controlled right,” said Seth Bacon, MLS senior vice president of media. “We work in concert with our clubs when digital deals come up. It’s a little more straightforward when a deal is tied to a traditional RSN partner, like Fox Sports or Comcast. When it comes to distribution of media rights on a digital platform that has a national or global reach, that’s where we’re more involved in the conversations. Clearly, we’re working hand-in-hand with the club to make sure that their needs and their market-specific needs are being met by whatever partnership we enter into.”

 

Bacon characterized the league’s involvement in the nation’s capital as helping D.C. United better understand the marketplace — from identifying interested companies to finding out what type of deal they want. For YouTube TV, Bacon said local digital media rights deals generally have been an outgrowth of sponsorship talks. “It’s really been in the last two months where we really started to work with D.C. United to make a concerted effort to identify what options they’ll have after 2018 when their current rights deal expires,” Bacon said. “Some of those conversations had a dual focus.”

 

Bacon said the league is in constant contact with YouTube TV and ESPN+, thanks largely to the local digital deals those two already have signed.

 

“At the same time, there’s a whole host of other companies that we’re out there talking to in real time,” Bacon said. “There were people at the All-Star Game ... in Atlanta. We were meeting with clubs, talking about how do we have some of these new platforms that are trying to get into this space work with our clubs to grow their brands, grow our club brands and create new and different innovative media partnerships that will resonate with our fans in our markets based on where our clubs are.

 

“We’re excited that there’s a lot of interest. There’s a lot of people asking questions, both on the club side and on the digital partner side.”

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.