Thursday, August 11, 2011

MLS and the big boy TV contract

&... ready to make some lovely babies.

To me, part of MLS's lack of appeal to the general population has always been its scarcity. If you'll remember, the hardcore among us were all rejoicing when MLS and Fox Soccer ironed out the kinks on a one-year deal in Feburary that gave them the rights to up to 31 regular season games (a crucial bit of info there) and three playoff games. It was a narrow decision that bumped up against the start of the season and nearly left us with no contract at all (how far away we seem already). The problem of course was always that Fox Soccer is a niche channel that caters only to entrenched soccer fans and lacks top-notch production. If he can even find the channel, the average fan tunes in, sees a subpar product narrated by Mark Rogandino and comments lustily about how MLS is a backwater league with backwater representation. And then he clicks back to a real channel.

That changes now. The fan that hates soccer will always hate soccer, most of the time for irrational reasons. But the agnostic fans among us, the general sports fans, these are the targets. I won't put MLS on par with the NHL just yet, but there are some similarities in that soccer requires a major broadcast medium to convey some sense of legitimacy. Each of these steps banks away some credibility. The more our league is transmitted to Joe Q. Public without him having to stretch to find it, all the better. I'll point you to the bush league Soccer Night in America, which Fox Soccer produces for its featured games, and then point you back to what Versus did for NHL coverage, which was miles better. I'd expect something similar for their MLS broadcasts and pre/post-game analysis. We're in the big boy league now.

The particulars of the deal include a moderate 14-game upgrade from the previous deal to 45 regular season games, an official break from a nine-year stranglehold from the Fox Soccer English Premier League Channel, four more national team games and coverage across national NBC affiliates as well as NBC Sports Network, a rebrand from what used to be known as Versus. Sources have quoted the deal as worth $10 million a year, which is a pretty nice hike from the $6.25 million deal Fox Soccer wrangled in February (which was an even better deal for MLS than the $3 million they were paying previously). Especially considering this one is spread over three years.

This is an extremely positive step. The next is getting regional sports networks better involved, but that domino couldn't possibly have fallen without this kind of move. For some perspective, Versus currently reaches 76 million homes compared with Fox Soccer's 39 million. No brainer, and another bold step forward for MLS.

More games, more exposure, more love. Maybe, just maybe, we can finally shut Jim Rome's mouth.

- Will Parchman

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