The NBC Sports Group will be kicking it with Major League Soccer and the U.S. men's national team, starting next year.
The three-year pact, commencing with the start of the domestic circuit's 2012 campaign, calls for NBC Sports Network (nee Versus) to air 41 MLS matches -- 38 during the regular season, three in the playoffs -- plus a pair of men's national team affairs. For its part, NBC will air two matches apiece from MLS's regular- and post-season, as well as two men's national team games. That will mark the first time four MLS matches will be broadcast on English-language network television since 2002.
The deal, which sports media community sources peg at between $10 million to $12 million annually, wrests the MLS package, comprising 31 regular-season games and three playoff tilts, that has been held by Fox Soccer Channel. FSC reached a one-year extension with MLS, estimated as somewhere between $6 million and $8 million, in February.
"Although we're disappointed MLS chose to go in a different direction, we wish them well, while Fox Soccer continues to support the sport's growth in the U.S. through our in-depth coverage showcasing the most revered leagues, teams, players and competitions from around the globe," said Fox Soccer Channel general manager David Nathanson.
FSC, whose MLS ratings have been flat at around a 0.1 mark, retains the rights to England's Barclays Premier League, Italy's Serie A and the UEFA Champions League action.
MLS also has national rights deals with ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, as well as with Univision Communications via match telecasts on broadcast network TeleFutura and cable network Galavision.
NBC Sports Group's men's national team contests come in addition to the matches that ESPN televises via a deal with the U.S. Soccer Federation.
The agreement marks the first rights deal for the newly named cable channel that will be re-branded from Versus on Jan. 2, 2012. Since being joined under the NBC Sports Group, following Comcast's taking control of NBCUniversal from General Electric in January, NBC and Versus have paired on a 10-year, $2 billion media rights deal with the National Hockey League. NBC Sports Group also added the U.S. rights to the 2014-2010 Olympic Games. NBC Sports Network figures to play a prominent role in that coverage, as well as Summer Games from London next year.
All MLS telecasts on NBC and NBC Sports Network will consist of pre-game and post-game coverage. According to the agreement, the NBC Sports Group obtains digital rights across all platforms and devices for the games it televises.
"Our new partnership with the NBC Sports Group is a significant step forward for Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer," said MLS Commissioner and Soccer United Marketing CEO Don Garber in a statement. "The NBC Sports Group is world-renowned for its award-winning coverage, superb broadcast quality and promotional expertise. We are excited to be part of NBC's ambitious plans for soccer, and look forward to reaching a considerable audience on multiple platforms."
Noted NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus: "Everyone at the NBC Sports Group is thrilled to begin this partnership with Major League Soccer. MLS is a perfect fit for our new group, and we are uniquely positioned to help grow soccer in the United States with extensive coverage on NBC Sports Network, significant programming on the broadcast network and our growing digital platforms. Additionally, this agreement complements the partnerships that five of our regional sports networks have with their local MLS teams."
Through existing rights deals, Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia televises Philadelphia Union matches; CSN Chicago, the Chicago Fire; CSN New England, the New England Revolution; CSN Mid-Atlantic, D.C. United; and CSN California, the San Jose Earthquakes.
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