MLS renews with Fox for 4 years, ends run with ESPN

December 13, 2022 GMT
MLS commissioner Don Garber attends a Thanksgiving feast hosted by MLS and U.S. Soccer officials at the Flying Carpet restaurant in Doha, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
MLS commissioner Don Garber attends a Thanksgiving feast hosted by MLS and U.S. Soccer officials at the Flying Carpet restaurant in Doha, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Fox will keep on broadcasting Major League Soccer games in the U.S. as part of a four-year agreement, ending the run of ESPN and ABC, which had carried matches since the league launched in 1996.

MLS also announced linear television agreements on Tuesday with TSN and RDS in Canada and TelevisaUnivision.

MLS chose only one television partner in the U.S. due to its 10-year partnership with Apple that begins next season.

The rights deal with Apple, announced in July, allows fans to watch every game without local blackouts or restrictions.

MLS deputy commissioner Gary Stevenson noted the media deals, beginning with Apple, were built with a streaming-first mentality. The league has found 83% of its fans watch sports on streaming devices or recorded TV during an average week, up from 52% for all TV viewers.

“The original idea was to create what is primarily a streaming package and also add to that great linear agreements with partners that we know well. We’re very happy with what we’re going to be able to offer. We think it’s going to be a great fan experience,” Stevenson said.

Fox, TSN and RDS also have rights to the 2026 World Cup in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Fox Sports will carry at least 34 regular-season, eight playoff matches and the MLS championship. At least 15 regular-season games will air on Fox, with the remainder on FS1. All Fox and FS1 matches will air in Spanish on Fox Deportes

The agreement also includes 16 Leagues Cup matches on FS1 through the round of 16. Beginning next season, the Leagues Cup will be a summer competition between MLS teams and Liga MX clubs. TelevisaUnivision will air 21 Leagues Cup matches, including the final.

Stevenson said it also made more sense to go with one linear partner in the U.S. due to the league’s desire to have a more streamlined schedule. Most matches next season will be played on Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. local time and some on Wednesdays.

“Fox was the perfect partner. They had the perfect schedule to complement what we were doing with Apple,” Stevenson said. “We are personal and professional fans with ESPN and Disney and admire what they have done for this league. We’re still in conversations with ESPN about ways that we can work together going forward.”

ESPN said in a statement it was unable to reach a new agreement with MLS. ESPN also is losing rights to home games of the U.S. Soccer Federation, which starts an eight-year contract in January with Turner Sports. ESPN has rights to Germany’s Bundesliga, Spain’s La Liga, England’s second tier League Championship and the Dutch Eredivisie.

“We are very happy with the outstanding lineup of soccer properties on our platforms, and we will continue to provide news and information coverage of the league through our industry- leading linear, digital, and social media platforms,” ESPN said.

TSN and RDS will average two matches per week across the season’s 34 rounds, including one per round involving a Canadian team. It also includes eight playoff matches, the MLS championship and some Leagues Cup matches.

Apple will be the exclusive English and French-language carrier of the Leagues Cup quarterfinals, semifinals and finals. It will also be the sole worldwide carrier for the All-Star game.

The linear broadcasters will use a feed from MLS as the league takes over production for the first time. It is similar to the way European soccer leagues do business.

The linear deals complete the framework of MLS’ rights deals after the Apple announcement in July. MLS Season Pass will be available in over 100 countries exclusively through the Apple TV app beginning next year.

MLS Season Pass will launch on Feb. 1, while the 2023 season begins on Feb. 25 with a full slate of games., including defending champion Los Angeles FC facing the LA Galaxy at the Rose Bowl. LAFC beat Philadelphia on penalty kicks for its first MLS title.

MLS intends to announce the rest of its schedule this month.


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