What U.S. Soccer’s Media Deal Could Mean for MLS & Streaming

Major League Soccer just kicked off its 27th season, and its current 8-year, $720 million broadcast deal with ESPN, Fox, and Univision is set to expire at season’s end. With all three networks expected to make a bid to continue broadcasting MLS games,  It has been reported that the league is searching for a new deal worth $300 million per year, which is over triple the $90 million per year that the league currently receives from its current partners.

Unlike the league’s current deal, English-language rights to the U.S. Soccer Federation will not be included in MLS’s next deal. Those rights include marquee games and events such as the SheBelieves Cup, U.S. Soccer properties, U.S. Men’s and Women’s national team World Cup qualifiers, which will now be a part of the new deal U.S. Soccer signed with  WarnerMedia’s HBO and Turner Sports. Beginning in 2023, U.S. Soccer games will air across TNT, TBS, and HBO Max as part of an 8-year deal, reportedly worth around $200 million.

After seeing the deal that U.S. Soccer received, MLS will look to fulfill its hopes of securing its goal of $300 million per year from traditional media companies, or streamers like Apple, and Amazon, who are reportedly interested.

What’s Up for Grabs in MLS’s Next Media Rights Deal

During a press conference ahead of opening weekend, MLS Commissioner Don Garber gave an update on the future of the rights deal. Garber stated that the league has “continued to make progress” in reaching a deal, and ”hopes to be in a position to finalize something by the end of March.”

Garber previously stated that the league strategically allowed all of their media rights to expire at the end of the 2022 season, so it could secure a massive deal, which will feature the hat-trick of local games, data rights, and any other MLS content.

During the opening weekend press conference, Garber stated that he looks at the league’s media package as a “global package.” He continued by saying, “It’s got 500 to 600 games, including MLS NEXT and MLS NEXT Pro. It has our local rights, which have never been offered before, our Spanish and English rights and our Leagues Cup rights.”

Potential Streamers for MLS

According to Garber, the league is “talking to anybody that is in this business. whether it’s a streamer or more traditional media company.” The league is encouraged by the interest it has received from current domestic-partners ESPN/ABC, Fox, and Univision, but with interest from other potential suitors, it could create a bidding war.

ESPN+ (Disney)

Securing MLS would continue to solidify ESPN as the World Wide Leader in Sports. Currently,  MLS Live on ESPN+ is the exclusive streaming home of approximately 350 live out-of-market MLS games. Disney would love to keep the rights to MLS games after the 2021 MLS Cup was the most-watched MLS Cup match on ABC and ESPN networks since 2009.

Peacock (Comcast/NBCUniversal)

MLS games may not currently stream on Peacock, but the streamer is no stranger to the world of soccer. NBC agreed to a 6-year extension, expected to be worth over $2.7 billion to remain the exclusive broadcaster of the Premier League in the United States, with select games streaming on Peacock.  As NBC is looking to bolster Peacock’s sports offerings by potentially adding the MLB, adding MLS would give the streamer a robust lineup, which already features the NFL, the Olympics, Notre Dame football, the PGA Tour, and more.

Paramount+ (Paramount)

Paramount+  has an expansive offering of streaming rights in the world of soccer.  Adding MLS would make the streamer the must-have platform for soccer fans in the United States. If MLS were to join Paramount+, it would be part of a portfolio which features the recently acquired Barclays FA Women’s Super League, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, UEFA Europa Conference League and UEFA Youth League; UEFA Women’s World Cup Qualifying; NWSL; the Women’s Cup; CONCACAF national team competitions (Men’s World Cup Qualifiers, Women’s World Cup Qualifiers, Men’s Nations League and Women’s Nations League); Italy’s Serie A; Argentina’s Liga Profesional de Fútbol; Brazil’s Campeonato Brasileirão Série A; the Scottish Professional Football League (cinch Premiership, cinch Championship and Premier Sports Cup); and Asian Football Confederation competitions (AFC Asian Qualifiers – Road to Qatar, AFC Champions League, AFC Women’s Asian Cup and AFC Asian Cup).

HBO Max (WarnerMedia)

WarnerMedia may look to acquire MLS to strengthen HBO Max after becoming the English-language streaming home of the U.S. Soccer Federation. With WarnerMedia’s upcoming merger with Discovery on the horizon,  adding the largest professional soccer league in the United States to the streaming platform would be a major goal for the start of the new company. WarnerMedia’s Turner Sports is already the home of the NHL, NBA, MLB, AEW, and NCAA March Madness, and adding MLS to that lineup gives it one of the widest variety of sports of any streamer.

Prime Video (Amazon)

Amazon has been aggressively building its sports content on Prime Video. The tech giant has been named as a favorite to land NFL Sunday Ticket, but in the world of MLS, Prime Video is the exclusive-streaming provider for non-nationally aired games of Seattle Sounders FCs, within the Washington state area. The Sounders deal with Amazon will expire at the end of this season, and Amazon could look to become a major player by acquiring the media rights to the rest of the league. After increasing the price of their Prime membership to $139, adding MLS to the service would give subscribers more value, and allow the league to reach 200 million eyes.

Apple TV+ (Apple)

With plans to spend billions on live sports over the next four years, Apple is serious about securing sports content for  Apple TV+.  Like Amazon, the tech giant is a favorite to land NFL Sunday Ticket, and pairing American football with MLS football would be a great way to launch the streamer’s sports portfolio with diversity. Apple has been in talks with MLB to broadcast live games too, and if the streamer can acquire live games from the NFL, MLB, and MLS then it would be at the forefront of platforms for sports fans.

Why Streaming is Important to MLS

With more people streaming sports they didn’t have access to before streaming, MLS is looking to capitalize on new technologies, with Seth Bacon, Senior Vice President, Media stating the league has “the youngest fanbase in North American sports,” and a fanbase that is “very tech-savvy digitally-native,” in an interview with World Soccer Talk, back in September.

Bacon continued: “When you look at the metrics that really matter (Gen Z, multi-cultural, tech-savvy), Major League Soccer has the best metrics across the board in all those areas. When you think about the way the world is shifting from a media standpoint, and how consumption habits are going to change, our sport is perfectly positioned for the next evolution of how people consume live sports.”

If MLS can show potential partners the value of having a younger fanbase then it should be able to secure its $300 million per year media rights goal.  The expansion sports betting and gamification across streaming platforms will only help MLS during contract negotiations.

With the 2022 season underway, MLS will continue to negotiate deals before the clock expires, but according to the league, fans should know which steamer will score the goal by acquiring digital rights by the end of March.