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History of Major League Soccer on television

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Major League Soccer has been broadcast live in the U.S. nationally since the league's inception in 1996 and in Canada since 2007.[1] In the United States the game is broadcast in English on ESPN, Fox Sports 1 and Fox, in Spanish on Univision Networks. In Canada, MLS is broadcast on TSN in English and TVA Sports in French.

Games not televised nationally are aired by regional sports networks or local broadcast television stations. Teams may also have a contract with a local radio broadcaster to air their games. Some teams air games exclusively in Spanish on radio, others have English only or an English and Spanish radio broadcaster.

Historical breakdown

As of the 2015 season, MLS matches are broadcast nationally by ESPN networks and Fox Sports in English, and Univision networks in Spanish under an eight-year contract. Each broadcaster has a window for national regular season matches, with UniMás airing a game on Friday nights in Spanish and additional matches on Univision Deportes Network, and ESPN and Fox Sports 1 airing games on Sunday evenings in English. ESPN, FS1, and Univision share in coverage of the playoffs, while ABC and FOX alternate broadcasting the MLS Cup in English. ESPN and FS1 also alternate broadcasting the MLS All-Star Game in English, In total, at least 125 matches are aired per-season across all three networks. The three contracts have an average estimated value of $90 million per season—five times larger than the average $18 million value of the previous contracts with ESPN, Univision, and NBC Sports.[2][3][3][4][5][6][7]

Matches not televised nationally are broadcast regionally, often by regional sports networks like Fox Sports Networks, Comcast SportsNet, Spectrum Sports and Root Sports, and sometimes by terrestrial stations like KTXA, WRDQ anad KMYU. Regionally televised matches are available outside their local markets on ESPN+.

From 2012 to 2014, MLS matches were broadcast by NBC Sports, with 40 matches per year—primarily on NBCSN, and select matches broadcast on the NBC network.[8] The move from Fox Soccer to the more widely distributed NBCSN proved successful, with viewership numbers doubling for the 2012 season over those of Fox Soccer.[9]


On March 15, 1994, Major League Soccer with ESPN and ABC Sports announced the league's first television rights deal without any players, coaches, or teams in place.[10] The three-year agreement committed 10 games on ESPN, 25 on ESPN2, and the MLS Cup on ABC. The deal gave MLS no rights fees but split advertising revenue between the league and networks.

MLS Soccer Saturday was the first weekly presentation of MLS games, which usually started at 4PM EST and was sponsored by Radioshack. Before the start of the 2007 season, the league and ESPN announced that MLS Primetime Thursday would be the flagship broadcast as part of a new television contract, ending an 11-year broadcast run of matches on Saturday afternoons.


From 2005 to 2011, FOX Soccer showed 25 to 30 live games each season, plus 2 to 3 playoff games. In 2007, MLS Saturday started showing a 30-minute pregame and a 30-minute postgame show for each game.

After averaging 223,000 viewers during the 2006 season,[11] ESPN2's ratings increased slightly in 2007, to 289,000 viewers, including a regular-season high of 658,000 viewers for David Beckham's second regular season match. However, ratings dipped to 253,000 in 2008. Attendance often lagged, with few sellouts for the weeknight matches,[12] with marquee club Los Angeles Galaxy unable to host home matches at the Home Depot Center on Thursdays due to its agreement with California State University, Dominguez Hills.

On August 4, 2006, ESPN reached a comprehensive multimedia agreement with Soccer United Marketing (SUM) for the rights to Major League Soccer through 2014. As part of the eight-year agreement, ESPN2 will televise 26 regular-season and three playoff MLS matches each year, all in primetime on Thursdays.

Highlights of the agreement include:

  • ESPN2 will televise 26 regular-season MLS matches, primarily on Thursday nights.
  • ESPN2 will televise three MLS playoff matches.
  • ABC will televise one regular-season MLS match, the MLS All-Star Game, and MLS Cup. (replaced by ESPN in 2009, until 2017)
  • Since 2019, ABC will televise the MLS Cup
  • Televised coverage of the first round of the MLS Draft.
  • MLS telecasts can be re-aired in full or abbreviated versions on any ESPN media platforms
  • Extensive footage rights for all ESPN media platforms such as SportsCenter, ESPNEWS, ESPN Motion, ESPN360, etc.
  • ESPN will also produce and be solely responsible for the content, whereas, they had not been able to do that in the past.


Before the start of the 2007 season, the league and ESPN announced that MLS Primetime Thursday would be the flagship broadcast as part of a new television contract, ending an 11-year broadcast run of matches on Saturday afternoons. Also in 2007, ESPN2's coverage of the MLS included new on-screen scoreboards, similar to those used on other sports telecasts. In 2008, another new score graphic was debuted, this time in the upper left hand corner of the screen.

ESPN added several features in an attempt to improve presentation—high-definition broadcasts, a sky-cam for some matches, a virtual offside line, a ball tracer, a sideline reporter, and three commentators. For the inaugural season, 2006 FIFA World Cup announcers Dave O'Brien and Eric Wynalda served as play-by-play and analyst, respectively, with Allen Hopkins serving as the sideline reporter.[13] Tommy Smyth was later added as a co-analyst.[14] Glenn Davis and Rob Stone filled in for O'Brien on occasion.[15]

ESPN would join forces with Fox Sports and Univision to broadcast over 100 MLS games (combined), live and exclusive, from 2015 and 2022 in its new media rights deal. ESPN has been involved with the league since its inception in 1996.

Coverage of MLS expanded into Canada in 2007 with the addition of Toronto FC. Currently, English-language national MLS broadcast rights in Canada are held by the TSN networks through a five-year deal first renewed in 2017. The networks primarily broadcast matches involving the league's Canadian franchises, in combination with separate "regional" rights deals giving TSN exclusive rights to all Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC matches.[16][17] A limited number of matches are also carried by CTV.

For the 2008 season, JP Dellacamera and John Harkes replaced O'Brien and Wynalda as the lead team on ESPN2[18] with Davis, Smyth, and Julie Foudy occasionally filling in.

Following the 2008 season, ESPN discontinued MLS Primetime Thursday, citing lagging ratings[19] and hoping to find better lead-in programming. It was replaced by the MLS Game of the Week, which rotates among a variety of nights and time slots.[20]

Ratings have largely remained steady if stagnant despite the move from the regular time slot. Viewership averaged 299,000 per broadcast in 2009, up from 253,000 in 2008;[21] however, it dipped to 253,000 in 2010 before rebounding to 291,000 in 2011[22] with some matches (having been moved to ESPN as opposed to ESPN2) drawing over 600,000 viewers.

On January 23, 2009, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, owners of Major League Soccer franchise Toronto FC (along with other major sports teams in the city), announced they would acquire Insight Sports' interest in GolTV.[23] The deal was approved by the CRTC on June 2, 2009.[24] In 2015, MLSE reported to the CRTC that it had bought out GOL TV USA's stake in the channel.

For the 2009 season and beyond, the Thursday telecast was replaced by a variety of primetime games on Wednesdays through Saturdays. Beginning in 2009, until 2019, as part of ESPN's far-reaching strategy of moving sports programming to ESPN, all matches - including MLS Cup - are now aired on either ESPN or ESPN2. Since 2019, in odd numbered years, only the MLS Cup will air on ABC.


In February 2011, the TSN family of networks (in which ESPN owns a 20% interest) announced a six-year deal for national MLS broadcast rights in Canada. TSN and TSN2 would broadcast 24 games during the 2011 season and air a minimum of 30 games per season during the subsequent five seasons, all featuring at least one Canadian team. French-language sister networks RDS and RDS2 had similar broadcast rights. The networks also carried the MLS Cup and select playoff games, the MLS All-Star Game, and additional games not involving Canadian teams.[25] GolTV Canada will also continue to carry selected all-U.S. MLS matchups.[26]

Toronto FC regional games were split between the TSN and Sportsnet families of networks (their parent companies, Rogers Communications and Bell Canada, jointly owned a stake in TFC's parent company). Sportsnet also aired Vancouver Whitecaps FC games (primarily on its Pacific feed and national network Sportsnet One),[27] and TVA Sports aired Montreal Impact games.[28]

Also in 2011, MLS on Fox Soccer was rebranded as Soccer Night in America, with its production revamped to provide a viewing experience similar to NFL on Fox.[29] However, Fox was outbid by NBC Sports Network for its MLS package for the 2012-2014 seasons.[30]

On January 5, 2012, NBC Sports signed a three-year contract with Major League Soccer[31] to nationally televise 40 matches per year,[32] which would primarily air on the NBC Sports Network (now NBCSN), beginning with the 2012 season. All NBC telecasts included pre-game and post-game coverage, with the network intending to promote its games during broadcasts of its other major sports properties, such as the Olympics. More specifically as part of the new deal, NBC would carry three regular season and two playoff matches (the first time since 2002 that that many MLS games were to be broadcast on English-language network television), as well as 38 regular season and three playoff matches on sister channel NBCSN; both networks also aired matches featuring the United States men's national soccer team (with two games airing on each network).

NBC Sports took over the Major League Soccer rights from Fox Soccer[33][34] and Fox Deportes. Previous deals with U.S. partners ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and Galavisión continued in 2012, as did with Canadian partners TSN, TSN2 and GolTV.

NBC Sports' ratings for MLS improved greatly due to the increased presence of NBCSN (fueled by their NHL television package), with average ratings for the games jumping 122% for the inaugural season of the contract in 2012. Yet still, several games ranked at or near the bottom of the ratings among sporting event and entertainment telecasts, whereas ESPN's MLS coverage – which was railed by fans as being inferior to NBC's – had higher viewership, attributed to the greater availability of ESPN and ESPN2 nationally.

NBC and NBCSN's MLS telecasts during the 2013 season averaged 115,000 viewers per game, a steep drop from 2012. Looking to capitalize on further soccer opportunities, NBC Sports acquired the rights to the Premier League from Fox Soccer in 2012, in time for the 2013–14 Premier League season. Speculation abounded on if MLS was to be treated by the sports division secondarily to the Premier League, which has a greater U.S. audience than the domestic league, placing MLS' future with NBC in doubt.

In 2014, negotiations broke down between NBC and MLS on a new television contract. The league instead signed an agreement with Fox Sports to serve as its U.S. broadcast partner, beginning with the 2015 season in a shared rights deal with ESPN.[35]

NBC also operates a blog, ProSoccerTalk, which ran news headlines from Major League Soccer and other international soccer leagues. With NBC acquiring the broadcast television rights to the Premier League in 2013, significantly more coverage of the English top-flight was added to the site.


In 2015, MLS and TSN announced a new broadcast agreement that included a five-year media rights extension.[36] Under this new partnership, TSN became the exclusive English-language broadcaster of MLS in Canada beginning in the 2017 season.[36] TSN currently delivers exclusive coverage of every MLS game featuring Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC, a select number of Montreal Impact matches, a selection of matches featuring U.S. teams, as well as exclusive English-language coverage of the MLS All-Star Game, MLS Cup Playoffs, and MLS Cup.[36]

The 2015 agreement also included a new five-year agreement with TVA Sports as the official French-language broadcaster in Canada.[36]

Meanwhile, MLS Soccer Sunday is telecast primarily on ESPN, ESPN2 in the 5 pm Eastern Time Zone broadcast window. Most matches are simulcast live on ESPN Deportes.[citation needed] The first broadcast on March 8, 2015 was the home opener of Orlando City SC and fellow expansion side New York City FC. The match, which ended in a 1–1 tie, was broadcast from the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida before a crowd of 62,510 spectators.[37]

English-language and Spanish-language feeds are carried on ESPN3.[38]

As part of the current broadcast agreement between Major League Soccer and its network partners,[38] ESPN Networks and Fox Sports each contracted to broadcast 34 weekly matches in an assigned broadcast window. In addition to the weekly broadcast window, each broadcast group gained the right to transmit their broadcasts on their respective digital broadcast service.[38]

Additionally, ESPN Networks was granted the right to develop an over-the-top content (OTT) service consisting of all out-of-market broadcasts of any MLS match not part of the MLS Soccer Sunday broadcasts nor those of Viernes de Fútbol, the Friday evening presentation of MLS on the networks of Univision.[38] Although the service was intended to begin with the 2015 MLS season in the first year of the new agreement, ESPN decided it could not logistically offer the service that year and MLS continued to offer its MLS Live digital service as it had previous seasons.[39]

MLS Soccer Sunday is telecast primarily on Fox Sports 1 and Fox Deportes in the 7 pm Eastern Time Zone broadcast window.[38] The first broadcast on March 8, 2015 was the first match of a doubleheader featuring Sporting Kansas City and the New York Red Bulls.[40] The second match featured Seattle Sounders FC and New England Revolution.[41]

In 2015, Soccer Night in America was again rebranded as MLS Soccer Sunday due to a new deal between Fox and ESPN, with games on Fox Sports 1 airing from 7-9pm ET.

Also starting in 2015, Viernes de Fútbol is the first and (as of 2016) only exclusive broadcast of any North American major professional sports league on a Spanish language television network.[42] English language commentary is available using the second audio program and on Twitter.[43][44]

On January 10, 2017, TVA Sports acquired national French-language rights to Major League Soccer.[45]

In 2018, online streaming service DAZN obtained Major League Soccer's digital out-of-market service MLS Live—with live and on-demand streaming of matches featuring U.S. teams (matches with Canadian teams are only available after a 48-hour delay to protect the league's main rightsholders TSN and TVA Sports).[46]


  1. ^ "ESPN acquires rights to Major League Soccer". OurSports Central. August 6, 2006. Retrieved February 22, 2012.
  2. ^ "NBC to end MLS deal in 2015; ESPN, Fox pay $70 million per year for new rights package". The Goalkeeper. Archived from the original on January 14, 2014. Retrieved February 3, 2014.
  3. ^ a b John McDuling (May 12, 2014). "Here's more evidence that Americans are growing fond of soccer". Quartz. Archived from the original on May 17, 2014. Retrieved May 18, 2014.
  4. ^ "MLS's big play". Sports Business Journal. Archived from the original on July 15, 2014. Retrieved June 30, 2014.
  5. ^ "M.L.S. and TV Networks Reach Deal to Set Weekly Slots for Games". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 13, 2014. Retrieved May 13, 2014.
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  9. ^ Jonathan Tannenwald (November 29, 2012). "Analyzing NBC's ratings in its first season of broadcasting Major League Soccer". Philadelphia Daily News. Archived from the original on October 15, 2014. Retrieved May 18, 2014.
  10. ^ "U.S. Pro League Moves Along By Signing a Television Deal". The New York Times. March 16, 1994. Retrieved February 22, 2012.
  11. ^ Goff, Steven (May 3, 2007). "MLS Tries to Make Waves on Air" – via
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-04-29. Retrieved 2019-09-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ "World Soccer Talk - TV schedules and streaming links, news and podcasts". World Soccer Talk.
  15. ^ September 14, Lark Howorth on; AM, 2007 at 12:46 (September 14, 2007). "Galaxy's ongoing slide in LA superclásico". FanBlog: Soccer.
  16. ^ "Every Game, All Season Long: MLS ON TSN Kicks Off its Complete Coverage of Vancouver Whitecaps FC This Saturday". Retrieved April 5, 2014.
  17. ^ "TSN to broadcast all Whitecaps FC games beginning in 2014". The Sports Network. Archived from the original on February 1, 2014. Retrieved January 21, 2014.
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  19. ^ "ESPN dumps MLS Primetime Thursday". January 19, 2009.
  20. ^ "ESPN Making Changes To MLS Broadcasts".
  21. ^ "MLS viewership up 15% on ESPN2". October 29, 2009.
  22. ^ "MLS Regular-Season Audience Up Across ESPN/ESPN2, Fox Soccer".
  23. ^ MLSE scores GolTV 23 January 2009
  24. ^ Government of Canada, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) (June 2, 2009). "ARCHIVED - Applications processed pursuant to streamlined procedures".
  25. ^ TSN (February 14, 2011). "TSN Becomes Official Broadcaster of MLS in Canada with Landmark Six-Year Deal". Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved February 19, 2011.
  26. ^ GolTV (Canada). "GolTV Canada Matches for March 11–17, 2011" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 6, 2011. Retrieved March 11, 2011. (lists carriage of a Los Angeles vs. Seattle MLS game)
  27. ^ Sportsnet (March 3, 2011). "ROGERS SPORTSNET IS THE NEW HOME FOR VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC". CNW Group. Retrieved March 3, 2011.
  28. ^ Delia-Lavictoire, Yvan (July 14, 2011). "Impact sign multimedia deal, name TVA Sports broadcaster". Retrieved August 7, 2011.
  29. ^ Baysinger, By Tim. "Fox Soccer Rebranding its Coverage". Broadcasting & Cable.
  30. ^ Bell, Jack (August 10, 2011). "M.L.S. and NBC Sports Announce New TV Deal".
  31. ^ "NBC Sports Group acquires rights to Major League Soccer". NBC Sports History Page.
  32. ^ "NBC networks to air 41 regular-season matches in 2012". January 5, 2012. Retrieved February 22, 2012.
  33. ^ Richard Deitsch (August 10, 2011). "MLS, NBC reach deal to air games starting in 2012 season". Sports Illustrated. Time Inc. Retrieved August 17, 2011.
  34. ^ Jack Bell (August 10, 2011). "M.L.S. and NBC Sports Announce New TV Deal". The New York Times. The New York Times Company.
  35. ^ "MLS's big play". SportsBusiness Daily. May 12, 2014.
  36. ^ a b c d "Major League Soccer signs new landmark media rights partnerships in Canada with TSN and TVA Sports | Vancouver Whitecaps FC".
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  38. ^ a b c d e Ourand, John; Botta, Christopher (May 12, 2014). "MLS' Big Play". Sports Business Journal. Street & Smith's. Retrieved March 29, 2015.
  39. ^ Frankel, Daniel (January 30, 2015). "Report: ESPN will not provide a la carte pro soccer this year". Fierce Cable. Retrieved April 27, 2015.
  40. ^ "Sporting Kansas City vs New York Red Bulls". MLS MatchCenter. Major League Soccer. March 8, 2015. Retrieved July 25, 2015.
  41. ^ "Seattle Sounders vs New England Revolution". MLS MatchCenter. Major League Soccer. March 8, 2015. Retrieved July 25, 2015.
  42. ^ Communications, MLS (13 May 2014). "MLS, U.S. Soccer sign landmark TV and media rights partnerships with ESPN, FOX & Univision Deportes". Major League Soccer. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  43. ^ Staff, MLSSoccer. "How to watch MLS in English on UniMás or Univision Deportes Network with SAP". Major League Soccer. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  44. ^ Spangler, Todd (2018-03-09). "Twitter Inks Three-Year MLS Content Deal, Including Live-Streaming Matches (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved 2018-07-10.
  45. ^ "MLS reaches deals with TSN and TVA for Canadian television rights". ESPN FC. Retrieved 11 January 2017.
  46. ^ Armstrong, Laura (March 2, 2018). "MLS partners with DAZN to live stream U.S. matches for Canadian soccer fans". Toronto Star. ISSN 0319-0781. Retrieved March 4, 2018.

External links

This page was last edited on 1 February 2020, at 21:37
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