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MLS Sets TV Deals

It was a good weekend for Major League Soccer on and off the pitch.

On Sunday, Chivas USA tied the New England Revolution 1-1 before a record soccer crowd of 92,650 at the Los Angeles Coliseum that was part of a doubleheader that featured Spanish and European champion FC Barcelona drawing with Mexico's CD Guadalajara.

On Saturday, the domestic soccer circuit's best players topped English Premier League power Chelsea 1-0 in the centerpiece of All-Star festivities at the new Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill.

The day before, ESPN inked a new eight-year multimedia agreement with Soccer United Marketing, the league's commercial arm, for rights to MLS. Under terms of the deal -- which industry executives in the TV-soccer community placed at some $8 million annually -- ESPN2 will air 26 regular-season matches principally in primetime on Thursdays, plus three playoff games each season. In addition, ABC will televise the season-opener, the All-Star Game and the MLS Cup final.

The deal marks the first time the Disney networks have paid a rights fee to the league. Under the contract that expires with the end of this MLS campaign, SUM -- which handles the circuit's marketing and media rights -- secured carriage for the league on the Disney networks via an exchange for World Cup rights.

The new pact also calls for coverage of the first round of the league's draft; extensive footage for use by such platforms as SportsCenter, ESPNEWS, ESPN Motion, Mobile ESPN and ESPN360, among others; and encores of games in their entirety or in part for various properties.

ESPN will produce all of the MLS programming and keep the ad revenue sold in the matches.

The ESPN/ABC deal comes hard on the cleats of SUM striking an MLS accord with Fox Soccer Channel July 31. The five-year pact gives the service a weekly Saturday-night match and rights to at least three playoff games through 2010.

As part of the agreement, MLS matches will also be telecast by Fox Soccer sister networks Fox Sports en Español, Fox Sports Latin America, Fox Sports Middle East and Fox Sports Africa.

The renewal pact also extends coverage by Fox Soccer of the U.S. Open Cup tournament for this year through 2010; a pair of U.S. men's and women's national teams annually, starting next year; and three international friendly matches per year, beginning with FC Barcelona's tour of America this month.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but published reports estimated that it ranges somewhere north of $4 million annually over the life of the contract.

SUM is continuing to negotiate with Univision for a Spanish-language TV-rights deal for MLS.