MLS TV Deal: the good and the bad

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

While the new MLS TV deal is good in some ways, it's bad in others.

Today MLS, ESPN, Fox Sports, and Univision announced a new eight year TV deal. Instead of rehashing all the fine print, I'm going to talk about the good and bad parts of the deal.

GOOD

Money

$75-$90 million per year over eight years. That's $720 million into the coffers of MLS. For perspective, the current deal pays about $25 million per year, so MLS is looking at a 200-260% increase per year. That's a big pay day for a league that will (probably, most likely) see the salary cap increase in the future.

Set Broadcast Times

One of the constant complaints about MLS is the variable start times that teams face during the year. For example, it took until May for the Red Bulls to have a home game on a Saturday night. With the new deal, there will be three set games every week. Friday at 7 or 11 pm (Eastern) on UniMas, on Sunday, 5 pm on ESPN, 7 pm on Fox Sports 1.

Out of Market Availability

In years past (including this year), the only way for fans to watch out-of-market games was through paying $60/year for MLS Live or buying Direct Kick through Satellite/Cable provider. With this new deal, in 2015 ESPN will take over MLS Live, meaning all games will be available through ESPN 3 and the WatchESPN app, available on Android, iTunes, Apple TV, Roku, and other platforms at no yearly rate.

BAD

Set Broadcast Times

MLS couldn't have been looking past the price tag on the contract, because the broadcast times for FOX Sports & ESPN sucks. 5 & 7 pm on Sundays? How well does MLS expect to do against MLB during the summer and the NFL during the fall? Those times are going to be bad ratings wise.

Out of Market Availability

This is my biggest issue with this agreement, because I live out-of-market and have to deal with this every year. While games will be available on ESPN3 and WatchESPN, that's going to alienate some people. Like NBC Sports, in order to access streams online, you have to have a qualified cable/tv provider. While a lot of providers allow their customers to log into ESPN3, there are only 14 participating providers for WatchESPN. You may ask what the difference is, and while in essence, both services provide the same thing, the difference is really in live & mobile.

If you want to watch a game that's being broadcast live on ESPN & ESPN2, you need WatchESPN. If you want to watch at all on your mobile/tablet device, you need WatchESPN. MLS just killed access to what is quickly becoming the main way people access content. The beauty of MLS Live was that you didn't need a cable/satellite provider, you just needed to pay a cheap $60 for the year. While "opening" up to more fans because of price tag, MLS cut out other fans because they don't live in the right area, so they don't access to the right provider.

Lack of Reach

UniMas isn't available to everyone in the US, neither is Fox Sports 1. NBC Sports didn't have great reach either, but it is slightly better than FS1. On top of that, ESPN3 and WatchESPN is geo-locked, meaning that MLS fans in Canada now (as it seems) don't have a legal way of watching out of market games except for TSN (unless they have a ESPN3 type of service), the current MLS partner in Canada.

FOX's Track Record

FOX does not have a sterling reputation when it comes to broadcasting soccer. When it comes to MLS, it's worse. Fans celebrated when the league went to NBC Sports because the production quality improved. Granted, FOX has rights to the 2018 & 2022 World Cups, so they'll have to show they are serious to keep them beyond Qatar. Given their track record though, I'm not thrilled to be going back.

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