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Major League Soccer viewership is up, now it needs networks to pay more


New York City FC forward Valentín Castellanos (11) passes the ball forward against Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Chara (21) during the MLS Cup Final between the Portland Timbers and New York City FC on December 11, 2021 at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon.

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Major League Soccer concluded its 2021 season with positive news. The league is trying to convince television networks that it should charge $300 million per year for its games.

ESPN announced this week that ABC’s 2021 MLS Cup averaged 1.14 million viewersThe fifth-largest audience to watch an MLS Cup match on a Disney-owned television network was, which topped at 1.6million viewers. New York City FC defeated the Portland Timbers (4-2) in a penalty kick shootout to win their first title.

This is an increase from the 1.07 million average viewers that watched the 2020 Fox Sports game last year and 38% more than the 825,000 average viewers for 2019.

The league is seeking a major increase in viewers and the viewership report will come at a great time. Industry sources suggest MLS is seeking $300 million per season – up from the roughly $90 million it brings in from ESPN, Fox Sports, and Univision combined.

The MLS rights package might be devalued for key elements of its offerings.

Lee Berke, an LHB Sports consultant firm for sports media said that “they will do well.” There are things they can do that work for them, and there may be things that could reduce the increase.

New York City FC celebrated winning the 2021 MLS Cup at the MLS Cup Final, which took place between Portland Timbers FC and New York City FC. It was held on December 11, 20,21 at Providence Park in Portland.

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MLS leverages entire fleet

Let’s stay on the viewership front – as it’s the most critical metric in rights deals. The 2021 season saw many exciting moments in MLS. These are the opportunities for league officials to use to promote increased fan involvement.

Fox Sports carried the Thanksgiving Day playoff games between the Timbers & Colorado Rapids. The game attracted an average viewership of 1. 1.8 million viewersOn Fox platforms. It was the most-watched MLS soccer game ever on network TV and had the greatest MLS audience reach since April 2004.

Freddy Adu (then aged 14) made his MLS debut that year at RFK Stadium, against the San Jose Earthquakes. On average, 1.97 million people watched the contest.

MLS claimed that 31 regular-season games on ESPN channel 31, including ABC, attracted an average of 276,000 viewers. This is an increase from the 233,000 viewers that watched 39 MLS games on ESPN channels in 2020. 

MLS reported that viewership for the 2019 season was up 4% compared with 2020.

Ratings are still struggling to match ratings. Liga MXBerke said that “or Premier League,” Berke was referring international leagues.

Univision, a Spanish-language television network, reported that MLS averaged 284,000. But, international leagues have attracted more viewers than MLS.

CNBCUniversal, which is the parent company to NBCUniversal said that it had an average of 414,000 viewersfor the English Premier League Soccer Package for 2020-21. NBC Sports has reported that EPL games have averaged 2.2 minutes per game so far. 609,000 viewersAll its television channels.

The network is reportedly agreed to pay $2.7 billionTo retain rights to the Premier League U.S. That’s an increase of the $1 million EPL the network had received under the old agreement.

Berke claimed that networks would pay premium rights fees to soccer teams because their fan base is “younger, more tech-savvy.”

Paramount+ is aggressively bidding on a range of international assignments because “that’s why” soccer packagesHe was referring to Viacom’s streaming service. You saw that NBC spent a significant amount to retain the Premier League. That will be a good thing for MLS.

Don Garber, MLS commissioner, stated that all of MLS content, including local games and data rights for the 2023 media bundle, will be leveraged.

We used to go to clubs years ago and tell them all the local deals should expire at the end. [2022]Garber spoke to journalists on December 7.

Garber stated that all streaming deals must be cancelled. All of your data agreements, all of the sports betting deals, and everything that can touch a consumer are now included in a package we have that allows us to interact with traditional media companies, which are changing to digital media.

Is MLS able to bargain?

It is possible that the new MLS agreement will differ from the current rights package. Former ESPN boss John Skipper used to call it a “futures contract” and similar. “buying pork bellies.”

The current agreement gives ESPN the right to all MLS games. ESPN also rotates All-Star and MLS Cup games with Fox. Both companies share an inventory U.S. men’s national games. 

Soccer United Marketing, which is the marketing arm of MLS, negotiated media rights for national teams. The rights are owned by the U.S. Soccer Federation. ended its partnershipLast May, with SUM. This means that MLS cannot add these rights to the new package.

The impact of this on MLS’s negotiation position is not clear. According to media pundits, MLS could be able to attract closer than $200 million in rights for the U.S. since it lost its national rights.

Berke explained that “they have to weigh out the variety of factors which are increasing the value of soccer against the fact that there is no SUM involvement in the men’s or women’s teams anymore.”

Berke said, “And then the NFL took lots of money off the tables for everybody,” in reference to the more than a decade-old history of pro football. $100 billion deal last March.

Don Garber (MLS Commissioner) and David Tepper, Charlotte MLS Owner, announce Major League Soccer’s arrival in Charlotte in 2021. The announcement was made at an event held in Charlotte, N.C. on Tuesday, December 17, 2019.


MLS adds more content

With the new Leagues Cup format, MLS might make up for lost rights to national teams.

New month long championship tournamentIt will begin in 2023, and feature all MLS teams against Mexican Liga MX clubs. Liga MX has the potential to attract more players than MLS, so MLS could capitalize on its popularity in the U.S. 3 million viewersUnivision games

MLS is planning to expand TV markets in Charlotte, St. Louis and other areas in 2022 and 2023 respectively. Las Vegas market. Additionally, it will leverage its rights for additional teams to be featured in its MLS Next Pro minor-league operation.

The minor league could allow streaming services to tell stories, and attract viewers. It was an innovative concept. Liberty MediaFormula 1 for sale expand its audienceFor example, via Netflix.

Seth Bacon, MLS Senior Vice President of Media, said that this MLS offer is a “package to the 21st century media landscape” in a Thursday interview.

Bacon stated that MLS has had many productive conversations with all rights distributors, though he refused to identify specific networks. Garber also stated that they would reach a new deal by 2022’s first quarter.

Bacon said, “We are riding high on the momentum generated by our regular season as well as playoff viewers.” We also have the tailwinds from the 2026 World Cup, which will take place in Mexico, Canada, and the U.S.

Bacon responded to a question regarding the level of confidence in luring a favorable deal for media that would stabilize MLS. He said, “very enthusiastic” about what he saw as the future.