Lagardère Sports bids to raise profile of North America's USL in international rights deal
The United Soccer League, the second-tier soccer competition in North America, has struck an exclusive three-year international broadcasting rights deal with Lagardère Sports, the global sports marketing agency.
Under the agreement, Lagardère will market and distribute international rights for the USL Championship, the league's first division, and the secondary USL League One, which debuted last year, to broadcasters from 2020 to 2022.
The two partners said Lagardère will “use its extensive exposure and vast global network to maximise distribution for the Championship and League One in overseas markets."
The USL, which sits below Major League Soccer in the North American pyramid, will be hoping to capitalise on the growing popularity of the bigger competition in overseas markets.
International rights to MLS are currently distributed by agency giant IMG, which is five years into an eight-year deal with the league.
Dennis Spencer, senior vice-president of media at Lagardère Sports, said on Thursday: “We’re excited to… help expand the reach of the USL Championship and USL League One competitions globally. We look forward to leveraging our experience to help the USL reach more fans around the world.”
Court Jeske, USL’s executive vice president, added: “We have world-class cities competing in the USL and we look forward to delivering Championship and League One action to as many new fans, in as many new places as possible.”
In 2019, every game from USL League One was available to international fans via a streaming partnership with video sharing website YouTube.
Last September, the USL secured a new three-year domestic broadcast deal with ESPN, the major US sports broadcaster, running to the end of the 2022 season.
The deal features games from both the Championship and League One, and the number of USL Championship games on ESPN television channels is almost trebling, with 18 regular season games to be aired each year. All other matches are streamed live on OTT service ESPN+.
Last year, more than 750 regular season contests across the USL Championship and USL League One aired on ESPN platforms. The partnership between the two organisations entered its fifth year in 2020, as the league celebrated its 10th anniversary.
In the same week as the ESPN deal, the USL appointed consulting firm Premier Partnerships, headed up by experienced sports executive John Kristick, to represent it in sponsorship sales.
The firm is to help secure deals and generate new revenue for both the Championship and League One.
It emerged in December that French media giant Lagardère was close to selling off 75 per cent of its Lagardère Sports division to H.I.G. Capital, a Miami-based private equity and alternative assets investment firm.
The planned disposal values Lagardère Sports at around €110 million ($122.55 million) and the wider Lagardère Sports and Entertainment division at around €150 million. The sale is subject to approval from the competition authorities, and is targeted to close before the end of March 2020.
Lagardère has been seeking offers for its sports and TV production arms, the final two assets it was originally aiming to sell by the end of last year, in order to rake in €1 billion, and focus on its core operations of publishing and travel retail in a new strategy.