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Volume 22 No. 2
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MLS in talks for its next global media rights deal

International stars like British legend and D.C. United forward Wayne Rooney help give interest in the league a boost around the world.
Photo: Getty Images

Major League Soccer is in discussions with international broadcast partners regarding its next media rights deals across the globe, according to sources with knowledge of the discussions.

The rights, which cover every country outside of the United States and Mexico, are being marketed and distributed by IMG, which acquired them in 2014 in an eight-year deal. Previously, MLS’s international TV rights were held by MP & Silva.

The current slate of global deals — in which MLS matches get distributed to more than 170 countries and territories around the world on networks like Sky Sports in the U.K., Eurosport across Europe and beIN Sports across Southeast Asia and Australia — expires in 2018. The next set of deals will run from 2019 to 2022. IMG’s agreement with MLS, which was brokered by Soccer United Marketing and also includes the international media rights to U.S. men’s and women’s national team matches played in the U.S. and in World Cup qualifiers, also expires in 2022.

While MLS and IMG do not provide viewership numbers in the various territories, industry executives said that the presence of MLS matches alongside other major European leagues has been a boon for its brand awareness and visibility to savvy soccer fans globally, as well as serving as a showcase tool for potential players and coaches. It is unclear how much revenue the league brings in via these deals, although the previous deal with MP & Silva was valued in the eight figures, and the new deal with IMG is viewed as an increase, according to sources. MLS and IMG co-produce a world feed of the games and deliver that to the partners. From that point, each broadcast partner handles its own ad sales and localization of the coverage.

MLS and IMG declined to comment for this story.

In the different territories, IMG and MLS are in various stages of discussions with potential new partners, which range from larger terrestrial networks as in its previous deals, as well as with digital streaming partners like Amazon, Facebook and YouTube. This year, Facebook has secured the rights to stream the Premier League in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, as well as the UEFA Champions League in Latin America.

MLS executives traveled to global sports marketing convention Sportel in Monaco last month to meet with a variety of potential partners. It is expected that deals will begin to be finalized in the next four to five weeks, around the same time as the 2018 MLS season ends with its MLS Cup Final on Dec. 8, an event that will be showcased live across those 170 countries.