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Soccer Deals Kick In as World Cup Nears

The 2014 World Cup is less than a month away, and billions of eyeballs around the globe will be focused on the action from Brazil, with ESPN and Univision Communications properties presenting the matches across multiple platforms in the U.S. as their deals with soccer’s governing organization, FIFA, expire.

In soccer, the ball rarely stops rolling, with continually unfolding campaigns and competitions that leave little off-season time at the highest level of the beautiful game.

The same holds true for rightsholders in constant pursuit of what’s next on the pitch. With the upfront presentations unfurling in New York last week, plenty of pitching went on about which networks will be presenting which tournaments, not to mention ESPN, Fox and Univision announcing a new long-term, multiplatform pact with domestic circuit Major League Soccer.

MLS GETS NEW DEAL: Looking to build schedule continuity and stoke viewership, Major League Soccer inked an eight-year agreement, starting in 2015, to serve up dedicated Match of the Week windows.

Broadcast network UniMas and cable service Univision Deportes will present matches from the tip on Friday nights. On Sundays, ESPN2 (or ESPN) will air a 5 p.m. ET contest, and Fox Sports 1 will follow with a 7 p.m. ET match.

The three partners will televise more than 125 matches annually under the new contract.

The deals are reported at a collective $90 million annually, representing a more than trebling over current partners’ annual outlays of $27 million.

The growing league — which is adding new franchises in New York City, Miami and Orlando, Fla. — secured more in rights fees than the $83 million NBC Sports Group pays on average for England’s Barclays Premier League.

The partners also get rights to home matches of the U.S. men’s and women’s national-team games.

MLS commissioner Don Garber said “consistent windowing” was the league’s top priority, more than rights fees and promotional clout. “It will allow our fans to grow accustomed to know when and where to watch MLS games on these national networks,” he said.

Relatively small pockets have been watching. On ESPN and ESPN2, average viewership fell from 311,000 in 2012 to 220,000 last season, while NBCSN shed 10,000 viewers last season, to 112,000. This season, NBCSN’s MLS matches have nearly doubled, to 215,000 through seven games, helped by having BPL matches lead into four games.

On the UniMas and Galavision networks, MLS viewership more than doubled in 2013, to 135,000. This season, UniMas and Univision Deportes are averaging 136,000 viewers.

ESPN3 takes over game streaming, from MLS Live as well as the pay-perview subscription package MLS Direct Kick, which has been offered by In Demand and satellite providers. Garber said he was willing to take a short-term PPV revenue hit for what he believes will be wider exposure on ESPN3 and overthe- top providers including Google Play, iTunes, Apple TV and Roku.

COPA AMERICA CENTENARIO: Univision secured Spanish-language rights to the Copa America Centenario tourney in the summer of 2016. The 100th anniversary of the inaugural South American event in 1916 will feature top nations from FIFA’s CONMEBOL and CONCACAF groups, with the 32-match tournament unfolding in the States.

The United States, Mexico and four other CONCACAF nations will vie for the champion of the Americas crown along with CONMEBOL’s Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Peru, Paraguay, Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia and Venzuela.

“It’s our teams in our hemisphere. On a per-match basis, the audiences will be larger than for the World Cup,” Univision Deportes president Juan Carlos Rodriguez told Multichannel News after the MLS press conference. It was a sentiment he repeated at the Univision upfront on May 13, when he also declared love for athletics: “I freaking love sports. I am a fanatico.”

Fox has first negotiating dibs on the Englishlanguage rights to Copa America Centenario in the States. David Nathanson, general manager and chief operating officer of FS1 and FS2, said the programmer “has interest and we’re in discussions.”

EURO 2016: Copa America Centenario is stepping onto the international stage that had solely been the province of UEFA’s top national team tournament, to be televised here by ESPN in 2016. Given that commitment and some overlap of the events, ESPN executives privately downplayed interest in the newcomer.

ESPN Deportes officials at the network’s May 14 upfront were exuberant over Euro 2016, which they billed as the second-biggest soccer event behind the World Cup.

And with good reason: The 2012 event yielded the Spanish-language network its best-ever June and top telecast to date with 1.13 million watching Spain top Italy in the final. Qualifying matches for the competition (televised in English by ESPN and Fox) begin this October and run through November 2015.

COPA AMERICA: beIN Sports, which kicked off its Englishand Spanish-language networks in August 2012 with coverage of top European circuits Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A and France’s Ligue 1, holds exclusive right to South America’s quadrennial national team event in 2015 and 2019.

BeIN officials believe the 10-nation competition from Chile next summer could be a springboard to moving the networks beyond their current sports- and Hispanic-tier positioning (15 million and 7 million suscribers, respectively) and boosting their combined 22 million subscriber count.

Aside from news and match coverage, beIN, which currently only lacks Charter Communications from the list of top 10 distributors, will flank Copa America with a “Superfans” show for which it will select a fan from each participating nation and arm them with tickets and a camera. They will provide viewers with vistas in and around the event as they travel with their sides to the different venues, Antonio Briceño, deputy managing director of beIN Sports North America, said.

NBCUNIVERSAL PLAY: At Telemundo’s May 13 upfront, it was announced that mun2 would become a major player with FIFA events in 2015, with exclusive coverage for the men’s under-20 World Cup from New Zealand, the under-17s from Chile, the beach soccer World Cup from Portugal and the Women’s World Cup from Canada.

The schedule has not been drawn yet, but insiders said mun2 will likely air most of the action from the women’s tourney before Telemundo picks up the semis and the final.

The Telemundo broadcast network acquired exclusive U.S. media rights for all of the home games of Mexico’s firstdivision soccer squad Pachuca, beginning with the LigaMx Apertura schedule in June. With Pachuca having battled Leon (another Telemundo team) in the two-leg Clausura fi nal over the last few days, the broadcaster will have locked up rights to the LigaMx champion going into next season.

Rival Univision has the rest of the squads in LigaMX, which is the highest-rated league soccer property in the States, averaging 883,000, 819,000 and 290,000 viewers on Univision, UniMas and Univision Deportes, respectively, through the quarterfinals of the Clausura season.