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Soccer League Inks Deal Worth $15 Million

U.S. pro league Major League Soccer (MLS) is about to cash in on the sport’s growing popularity with a series of television deals that will bring in upwards of $15 million annually. Soccer United Marketing (SUM), the commercial arm of MLS, is close to a multi-year agreement with Fox Soccer Channel (FSC) for a wide-ranging rights deal worth around $20 million through 2010, according to sources.

With a separate, multi-year deal with ABC/ESPN —said to be worth at least $7 million-$8 million annually—expected to be announced as soon as this week, SUM could have four national TV deals. The others are a previously announced HDNet contract (said to be worth $2 million-$3 million annually) and another deal with Univision currently in the works.

While international soccer’s World Cup has established itself as a major television property every four years, this would mark the first time the 11-year-old MLS has commanded rights fees, a huge boon for the growing league. "That would be a watershed moment for them," says sports consultant David Carter of The Sports Business Group.

As part of the deal, FSC is expected to acquire rights to an exclusive MLS Game of the Week, a small package of MLS post-season contests, a package of U.S. men’s and women’s national team games, and additional international contests, beginning with a series this summer featuring popular Spanish team FC Barcelona.

FSC is expected to air its MLS games on Saturdays, as will HDNet. ABC/ESPN is expected to carry games on Thursday nights, with Univision to show games on Sundays.

The agreement is also expected to call for Fox to take over the rights to the Mexican Interliga soccer tournament from Univision. Fox is expected pay the $2 million annual rights fee that Univision had agreed to pay to SUM.

The SUM-Univision package currently under negotiation is said to include MLS, international soccer and a yet-to-be-announced series of games between MLS and Mexican teams.