North America’s Major League Soccer (MLS) competition has announced rights deals with Fox Sports and the Spanish-language TelevisaUnivision in the US and with TSN and RDS in Canada for the next four seasons.
The agreements – all extensions apart from the RDS agreement – start early next year when the 2023 season of the league kicks off and run through until the end of the 2026 campaign.
They will complement and run alongside a major 10-year streaming rights deal struck by MLS with the technology giant Apple.
The announcement made by MLS yesterday (December 13) confirms the league’s parting of ways with heavyweight sports broadcaster ESPN, which had covered action since the league’s inception in 1996.
The Fox Sports deal was initially reported earlier this week and will see the network show 34 regular season games annually, as well as eight MLS Cup playoff fixtures. 15 of those 34 games will be covered by the main linear Fox channels. Fox has covered MLS games since 2015.
Through the deal, the network also has rights to the Leagues Cup (a mid-season competition featuring teams from MLS and Liga MX in Mexico) and to match highlight packages.
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TelevisaUnivision, meanwhile, acquired MLS regular season highlight rights, with live action to come in the form of 21 annual Leagues Cup games, including eight knockout round games and then the final. The deal continues its long-term relationship with MLS, having first provided coverage in 1996.
In addition, the MLSsoccer.com website will feature in Spanish on TelevisaUnivision’s digital platform for the duration of the agreement.
The New York Post had at first reported that MLS had been at a standoff with both Fox and ESPN as the networks balked at the asking price for the games. In the original bidding process, neither network offered anywhere close to the $250 million per season fee Apple had committed.
ESPN eventually walked away from negotiations, abandoning one of its mainstay soccer properties, leaving Fox as the lone bidder for the linear programming.
In Canada, French-language channel RDS (previously an MLS broadcaster between 2011 and 2017) and current English-language partner TSN will both cover an “extensive schedule of regular season matches,” as well as eight playoff games each. They have also been allocated Leagues Cup rights and highlight rights.
TSN has been an MLS broadcast partner since 2011.
Both Canadian broadcasters are part of the Bell Media group, while there are currently three Canadian MLS teams.
Of that broadcast quartet, Fox Sports, TSN, and RDS all hold rights to the 2026 men’s FIFA World Cup national teams tournament, which will be held across Canada, the US, and Mexico in the North American summer.
Don Garber, the MLS commissioner, said: “These broadcast industry leaders continue to demonstrate their deep commitment to MLS and soccer.
“Our linear agreements, along with our partnership with Apple, are the culmination of a series of collaborative discussions to provide our fans with the most expansive and accessible lineup of programming MLS and our sport in the US and Canada have ever seen – and by a significant margin.”
Eric Shanks, Fox Sports’ chief executive, said: “We’re proud to extend our longstanding partnership with Major League Soccer at a truly exciting time for the sport here in the US. There is no soccer league in the world better positioned for growth …”
Olek Loewenstein, president of global sports business at TelevisaUnivision, added: “We are thrilled to continue our partnership with Major League Soccer and bring our viewers the excitement of the 2023 Leagues Cup.”
From a Canadian point of view, Shawn Redmond, Bell Media Sports’ vice president, commented: “With this agreement, we will continue to serve Canadian soccer fans in both English and French with comprehensive live coverage on TSN and RDS, showcasing our fan-favorite Canadian teams every week throughout the season."
In terms of the MLS-Apple deal, all MLS games until 2032 will be available internationally via the MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV streaming service.
As well as the regular season, Apple will additionally air fixtures from the Leagues Cup, and select matches from the MLS Next Pro affiliate league and MLS Next youth league.
The 2023 MLS season will begin on February 25.
Image: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images