ESPN, Fox and Univision promise new emphasis on domestic game, MLS in landmark eight-year TV deal
It was music to the ears of American soccer fans: three behemoth US-based TV networks committing to making MLS and the USMNT a priority like never before.
"We're thrilled with the deal," ESPN chief John Skipper said in a Monday press event, where MLS unveiled long-term agreements with ESPN, Fox and Univision through 2022. "You will see ESPN turn to a real emphasis on the domestic game in the next eight years. We think this is the right time to drive it through.
"You'll see us engaged in a whole new way with MLS."
While MLS is a natural fit, according to Fox, given the network will be the US home for the FIFA World Cup in 2018 and 2022, ESPN sees MLS as its new flagship soccer property after serving as home to the English Premier League and UEFA Champions League in recent years.
"We reach a 115 million sports fans every week, it's really just a question of where we turn the promotion firehose," Skipper continued. "You see we've had a number of soccer assets and we have defused our promotion and our efforts across a number of properties and you're going to see us focus them more on MLS and the US and men's and women's national team over the next eight years.
It's that eight-year commitment that has the broadcasters particularly piqued. The long-term commitment allows them to make grand, long-term plans.
"What was attractive to us about this deal is that we could do a long-term deal," Skipper said. "It's a source of some frustration that those [English Premier League] deals have been short and we chose to put our lot here with MLS on a long-term basis."
"One of the things we like about it is our ability to predict over the course of the next eight years that we have it and that you're able to invest in it," said Fox Sports president Eric Shanks.
During that time Fox, ESPN and Univision will be dedicating exclusive, consistent windows for Games of the Week -- ESPN and Fox will team up for a Sunday doubleheader and Univision will take Friday nights -- while also engaging in "unprecedented cooperation" that will involve cross-promotion and alternating MLS Cup and All-Star Game broadcasts.
"We've all agreed that we're going to work together to try to elevate the sport, particularly the domestic teams and league in this country," Skipper said. "So I think you'll see some interesting things from us working together … We think this is an ascendant sport and the next eight years are going to be impactful and profound for US soccer."
"We believe in 2026 that the US should have the FIFA World Cup," said Univision Sports president Juan Carlos Rodriguez. "We also believe the owners are so smart that they'll start pouring a bigger amount of money into the teams and this [MLS] is going to grow big time. We want to be part of it."