Major League Soccer is looking to secure a media right’s deal worth $300 million annually when the league’s 2023 season begins, according to a new report from CNBC. If they can secure that deal then it would be over triple the $90 million per year that the league currently receives from FOX, Univision, and ESPN combined.
Recently, we reported that streaming providers were rumored to be interested in acquiring rights to the league, which reportedly is hoping to obtain a single carrier for all the league’s media rights. This was strategically done by MLS and commissioner Don Garber, for the league to land a massive payday by including the hat-trick of local games, data rights, and any other MLS content, from the CNBC report:
“Many years ago we went to our clubs and said, all of your local deals need to expire by the end of the  season,” Garber told reporters on Dec. 7. “All of your streaming deals need to expire,” Garber added. “All of your data deals, all of your sports betting deals, everything that has a touch point with a consumer is all now in a package that we’re able to engage with traditional media companies that are transforming themselves digitally, to new media companies.”
After having its most-watched MLS Cup on ABC and ESPN networks since 2009, with 1.14 million viewers, and its popularity with younger demographics, a 9-figure deal isn’t completely out of the question. Lee Berke of LHB Sports, a sports media consultancy firm, told CNBC that “networks will pay premium rights fees for soccer since the sport’s fan base tend to be ‘younger and more tech-savvy.’”
There has been an uptick in soccer league’s reaching deals with streaming platforms in recent months. NBC recently extended its agreement with the Premier League until 2028, which will see games stream on Peacock, for a reported value of $2.7 billion. Paramount+ will be streaming Barclays FA Women’s Super League after the league reached a multi-year agreement with CBS Sports. In the CNBC report, Berke suggests that both could be players for MLS rights:
“That’s why you’re seeing Paramount+ aggressively bidding for a variety of international soccer packages,” he said, referring to Viacom’s streaming service. “That’s why you saw the huge bump that NBC paid to retain the Premier League. And that will work well for MLS.”
Streaming looks to be a major factor in how MLS games are presented when the league lands its 2023 media deal. The league is hoping to score a “package for the 21st-century media landscape,” said Seth Bacon, MLS senior vice president of media, while speaking with CNBC earlier in the week.
These comments are similar to Bacon’s comments earlier this year while speaking with World Soccer Talk when he said he was “bullish on our prospects for the future because we know our consumers are ready, willing and able to consume our content anywhere, anytime and on any platform – linear, digital, any device.”
While speaking with CNBC, Bacon stated that MLS has had “numerous and productive discussions with every rights distributor,” without naming any names, however, like the commissioner, he thinks the league will secure their deal by the end of the first quarter of 2022. Bacon replied that MLS is “very enthusiastic about where we’re going to land,” after being asked about the confidence level of luring a deal that’ll stabilize the league.
“We have a ton of momentum from our regular season and playoff viewership,” said Bacon to CNBC. “And we have the tailwinds of the 2026 World Cup,” which will be played in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
However, the CNBC report does note that some media pundits think the MLS “could draw closer to $200 million.” The discrepancy of $100 million is a result of the fallout between Soccer United Marketing (SUM) and the U.S. Soccer Federation back in May. SUM is the marketing of the MLS, which negotiated the national team’s media rights, however, U.S. Soccer Federation operates those rights, and since their partnership has dissolved, MLS isn’t able to include those rights in its hopes for a massive deal. Berke told CNBC the following:
“They have to balance out the range of factors that are enhancing the value of soccer versus the fact the SUM involvement with the men’s and women’s team isn’t there anymore,” Berke said.
“And the NFL took a lot of money off the table for everybody,” added Berke, referencing pro football’s more than $100 billion deal last March.
It remains to be seen if MLS will be able to secure its goal of a $300 million per year deal by the first quarter of 2022, but with the league’s growth and popularity, the league could turn the media landscape into a high-stakes soccer shootout in a bidding war.