Major League Soccer on television

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Major League Soccer has been broadcast live in the U.S. nationally since the league's inception in 1996 and in Canada since 2007.[1] In the United States the game is broadcast in English on ESPN, Fox Sports 1 and Fox, in Spanish on Univision Networks. In Canada, MLS is broadcast on TSN in English and RDS in French.

Games not televised nationally are aired by regional sports networks or local broadcast television stations. Teams may also have a contract with a local radio broadcaster to air their games. Some teams air games exclusively in Spanish on radio, others have English only or an English and Spanish radio broadcaster.

History (U.S.)[edit]


Major League Soccer with ESPN and ABC Sports announced the league's first television rights deal on March 15, 1994, without any players, coaches, or teams in place. The three-year agreement covered English-language broadcasting for the 1996-1998 seasons, and committed 10 games on ESPN, 25 on ESPN2, and the MLS Cup on ABC. The deal gave MLS no rights fees, but the advertising revenue was divided between the league and networks.[2]

During the 1990s, Univision and Galavisión broadcast matches in Spanish. The original Univision deal ended in 1999.[3] Telemundo picked up MLS in 2000,[4] but disputes over time slots led to the network dropping MLS after the 2001 season.[5] ABC and ESPN were left as the only MLS broadcasters in 2002.

In 2003, Fox Sports World (later Fox Soccer Channel) also became an English-language TV partner to MLS, while Fox Sports en Español became the Spanish-language partner in the same year.[6]


In August 2006, MLS and ESPN announced an eight-year contract spanning 2007–2014 giving the league its first rights-fee agreement worth US$8 million annually. The deal gave the MLS a regular primetime slot on Thursdays, televised coverage of the first round of the MLS SuperDraft and an expanded presence on other ESPN properties, such as ESPN360 (now ESPN3) and Mobile ESPN. The agreement also placed each season's opening match, the MLS All-Star Game and the MLS Cup on ABC.[7]

In September 2006, the media announced a deal between the Univision network and Soccer United Marketing (SUM) worth US$80 million. The network agreed to broadcast 25 MLS games per season, ten U.S. men's national team games and five international matches operated by SUM;[8] although, ratings were volatile.[9]

Disappointing ratings led to a 2008 push by ESPN to bolster its popularity through measures such as using JP Dellacamera, a veteran play-by-play soccer commentator, instead of baseball announcer Dave O'Brien, as well as an arrangement to simulcast MLS games in Spanish on ESPN Deportes, with the intention of gaining additional Hispanic viewers with a Spanish style. ESPN programming executive Scott Guglielmino explained: “From my perspective, the only question in my mind when it comes to growth is how quickly over time MLS and its management group want to spend on players ... You’re in a worldwide market. The question is how quickly the ownership group wants to push that envelope.”[6]

After two years of low ratings, network executives decided to transfer all ABC games to ESPN. The MLS Cup had been broadcast on ABC each year from 1996 to 2008, but with ratings declining from 1.4, in 1996 and 1997, to 0.6 in 2008, the MLS Cup was moved to ESPN at the start of 2009.[10] The network also replaced the regular Thursday night telecast with a "game of the week" on either Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday nights, to give MLS games better lead-in programming and more flexibility to air better matchups.[11]

In 2011, Fox Soccer Channel and MLS agreed to a one-year extension to televise up to 31 regular-season games and three playoff game, in a deal worth around US$7 million.[12][13][14] MLS Wrap was a MLS highlight show that aired on Fox Soccer Channel that was often hosted by Sean Wheelock, with analyst John Harkes.[15]

The 2012 season saw a broadcasting change, with MLS moving its English-language broadcast partners from ESPN and Fox Soccer to ESPN and NBC Sports. MLS benefitted from the change, as the NBC Sports Network was shown in approximately twice as many homes as Fox Soccer (an increase from 9 million to 77 million viewers). NBCSN broadcast 44 matches and NBC broadcast 5 matches—the average combined audience for NBC and NBCSN's games in 2012 was 122 percent higher than the average audience for FSC's games in 2011.[16] ESPN ratings also increased in 2012 from the prior year, as a number of MLS games were shown on ESPN in 2012, instead of a primary focus on ESPN2, as had been the case previously.[17]


On May 12, 2014, MLS announced an eight-year broadcasting deal between ESPN and Fox Sports in English, and Univision in Spanish, covering television, digital, and the possibility of radio rights. The biggest change under the new deal was the establishment of a consistent national window for each broadcaster; UniMas airs matches on Friday nights, while ESPN2 and Fox Sports 1 air matches on Sunday evenings and nights respectively (jointly promoted as Soccer Sunday). All three broadcasters will air at least 34 regular-season matches per-season during these windows. ESPN and Fox Sports will also share in English-language coverage of the playoffs, and alternate airing the All-Star Game and MLS Cup yearly. Univision will air Spanish-language coverage of the MLS Cup and All-Star Game, and exclusively air two playoff knockout-round matches per season. Matches exclusively televised by Univision include English-language commentary via second audio program. The deal also includes options for national radio rights for ESPN Radio and Fox Sports Radio, rights to United States men's national team matches for all three broadcasters, rights for ESPN International, and an option for ESPN to take over the distribution of the league's out-of-market package.[18][19]

ESPN and Fox Sports pay a combined $75 million per season, and Univision pays $15 million per-season. Totaling at around $90 million per-season, nearly five times the value of the league's previous deal, it is the highest-valued television rights deal in MLS history.[20] Commissioner Garber stated at the announcement that the new contracts were "another strong indicator of the League's continued growth and the overall fan interest in our sport".[18][19]

History (Canada)[edit]

Coverage of MLS expanded into Canada in 2007 with the addition of Toronto FC. From 2007 to 2010, CBC, Sportsnet, and later GolTV Canada, broadcast Toronto FC games nationwide, and GolTV carried broadcasts of selected regular-season games not involving Toronto FC.

In 2011, the TSN networks announced a six-year deal for national MLS broadcast rights in Canada for the 2011–2016 seasons. TSN and TSN2 broadcast 24 games during the 2011 season and a minimum of 30 games during each of the subsequent five seasons, all featuring at least one Canadian team. French-language sister networks RDS and RDS2 have similar broadcast rights. The networks also carry additional games not involving Canadian teams.[21]

As in the United States, the individual Canadian teams have also negotiated separate broadcast deals for games not aired under the TSN/RDS national contract. TSN and Sportsnet split coverage of Toronto FC regional games, TVA Sports airs Montreal Impact games,[22] and TSN broadcasts the Vancouver Whitecaps in a separate deal.[23][24]

Current broadcasting contracts[edit]

United States[edit]

Network Current contract Annual rights fee Regular-season
Language Ref
ESPN 2015–2022 $75 million 34+ 8/7** English [25][26]
ESPN2 English
ESPN Deportes* 7 Spanish
Fox Sports 1 34+ 8/7** English
Fox English
UniMás 2015–2022 $15 million 34+ 2 Spanish [25][26]
  • ESPN Deportes will simulcast all 34+ ESPN and ESPN2 games, except the MLS Cup final and MLS All-Star Game
    • English language rights for the MLS Cup Final and MLS-All Star Game alternate between ESPN & Fox


Network Current contract Annual rights fee Regular-season
Language Ref
TSN 2011–2016 30 English [27]
TSN2 English
RDS 2012–2016 French


Ratings and viewers[edit]

Regular season[edit]

Year Channel Telecasts Viewers (Ratings) Channel Telecasts Viewers (Ratings)
English Language Spanish Language
2006[28] ESPN2 21 263,000 (0.2)
Fox Soccer
2007[28][29] ESPN2 25 289,000 (0.2) TeleFutura 24 282,000
Fox Soccer
2008[30][29] ESPN2 26 253,000 (0.2) TeleFutura 26 254,000
Fox Soccer* 30,000 (0.1)
2009[31][29] ESPN2 26 299,000 TeleFutura 24 229,000
Fox Soccer 34 53,000
2010[32][29] ESPN2 25 253,000 TeleFutura 23 211,000
Fox Soccer 31 53,000
2011[31][29] ESPN2 20 290,000 Galavisión 18 72,000
Fox Soccer 27 70,000 TeleFutura 12 233,000
2012[33][29] ESPN / ESPN2 20 311,000 Galavisión 20 57,000
NBCSN 40 125,000
2013[34][29] ESPN / ESPN2 20 220,000 (0.1) UniMás 23 223,000
NBCSN 37 112,000 (0.1)
2014[35][29] ESPN2 20 240,000 (0.2) UniMás 23 218,000
NBCSN 38 142,000 (0.1)
2015[36][29] ESPN (8) / ESPN2 (26) 34 245,000 UniMás 13 224,000
Fox Sports 1 34 197,000 UDN 29 55,000
2016[37][38] ESPN (29) / ESPN2 (5) 34 312,000 UniMás 27
Fox Sports 1 30 284,000 UDN
Fox 4 Univision 1


  • Bolded figures represent MLS record high viewership for ESPN, non-ESPN, and Spanish-language channels.
  • Although the viewing numbers on ESPN2 declined by 36,000 from 2007 to 2008, ESPN began simulcasting MLS games on ESPN Deportes in 2008, attracting an average of 40,000 viewers.[28]
  • Fox Soccer began getting ratings in October 2008. The Fox Soccer numbers for 2008 represent only the last four matches of the season. Viewership numbers prior to October 2008 are unavailable.[28]

MLS Cup final[edit]


Year Network Rating Viewers
1996 ABC 1.4
1997 ABC 1.4
1998 ABC 1.0
1999 ABC 0.7


Year Network Rating Viewers
2000 ABC 0.7
2001 ABC 1.0
2002 ABC 0.8 1.2m
2003 ABC 0.6 0.9m
2004 ABC 0.8
2005 ABC 0.8 1.1m
2006 ABC 0.8 1.2m
2007 ABC 0.8 1.1m
2008 ABC 0.6 0.9m
2009 ESPN 0.7 1.1m


Year Network Rating Viewers
2010[10] ESPN 0.4 0.7m
2011[39] ESPN 0.8 1.0m
2012 ESPN 0.7 0.8m
2013 ESPN 0.5 0.5m
2014[40] ESPN 0.6 0.9m
2015 ESPN 0.4 0.7m

Single-game records[edit]

Regular season
No. Viewers Date Network Matchup
1 1,000,000 June 28, 2016 Univision LA Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes[41] Aired after the USA v. Colombia Copa America match.
2 616,000 June 25, 2016 ESPN Seattle Sounders vs. New York City FC[42]
3 539,000 March 10, 2015 ESPN2 New York City FC at Orlando City[43] League debut for both expansion teams.

Previous national broadcasting networks[edit]

MLS broadcasts[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "ESPN acquires rights to Major League Soccer". OurSports Central. August 6, 2006. Retrieved February 22, 2012. 
  2. ^ "U.S. Pro League Moves Along By Signing a Television Deal". New York Times. March 16, 1994. Retrieved February 22, 2012. 
  3. ^ "MLS:Telemundo Line-up". Retrieved July 11, 2016. 
  4. ^ Network, Telemundo. "Telemundo Network Enters Into Exclusive Agreement With Major League Soccer". Retrieved July 11, 2016. 
  5. ^ "Investor slots filled for last team". Retrieved July 11, 2016. 
  6. ^ a b Tripp Mickle (March 24, 2008). "ESPN kicks up efforts to bolster MLS ratings". Sports Business Daily Global Journal. American City Business Journals. Retrieved May 18, 2014. 
  7. ^ "ESPN, MLS Reach Eight-Year TV Deal That Includes Rights Fees". SportsBusiness Daily. August 7, 2006. Retrieved February 22, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Univision Signs Eight-Year Agreement To Broadcast MLS Games". SportsBusiness Daily. September 26, 2006. Retrieved February 22, 2012. 
  9. ^ "A breakdown of TV viewership-worse than we thought". The Soccerist. January 8, 2013. Retrieved September 16, 2013. 
  10. ^ a b c d Paulsen (November 24, 2010). "Record Low Rating For 2010 MLS Cup". Sports Media Watch. Sports Media Watch. Retrieved May 18, 2014. 
  11. ^ "ESPN booting MLS from its Thursday slot". SportsBusiness Journal. January 19, 2009. Retrieved February 22, 2012. 
  12. ^ "MLS extends TV deal with Fox Soccer Channel for one year". Usatoday.Com. February 18, 2011. Retrieved March 26, 2012. 
  13. ^ "MLS And FOX Soccer Channel Agree on One-Year Contract Extension". February 18, 2011. Retrieved March 26, 2012. 
  14. ^ "Fox Soccer Channel Finalizes Deal With MLS, Reportedly Worth $6.25 Million A Year". SBNation. February 18, 2011. Retrieved March 26, 2012. 
  15. ^ "Memo to Fox Soccer Channel: 5 Ways to Improve FSC", World Soccer Talk, November 25, 2007.
  16. ^ Jonathan Tannenwald (July 14, 2014). "Analyzing NBC's ratings in its first season of broadcasting Major League Soccer". 
  17. ^ SportsBusiness Journal (November 29, 2012). "TV ratings for MLS up across the board". Sporting Soccer. Retrieved May 18, 2014. 
  18. ^ a b "MLS, U.S. Soccer sign landmark TV and media rights partnerships with ESPN, FOX & Univision Deportes". Major League Soccer. May 13, 2014. Retrieved May 18, 2014. 
  19. ^ a b "MLS's big play". Sports Business Journal. Retrieved March 8, 2015. 
  20. ^ John McDuling (May 12, 2014). "Here's more evidence that Americans are growing fond of soccer". Quartz. Retrieved May 18, 2014. 
  21. ^ TSN (February 14, 2011). "TSN Becomes Official Broadcaster of MLS in Canada with Landmark Six-Year Deal". Retrieved February 19, 2011. 
  22. ^ Delia-Lavictoire, Yvan (July 14, 2011). "Impact sign multimedia deal, name TVA Sports broadcaster". Retrieved August 7, 2011. 
  23. ^ "Every Game, All Season Long: MLS ON TSN Kicks Off its Complete Coverage of Vancouver Whitecaps FC This Saturday". Bell Media PR. Retrieved April 5, 2014. 
  24. ^ "TSN to broadcast all Whitecaps FC games beginning in 2014". Retrieved January 21, 2014. 
  25. ^ a b "MLS, U.S. Soccer sign landmark TV and media rights partnerships with ESPN, FOX & Univision Deportes". May 13, 2014. Retrieved May 28, 2016. 
  26. ^ a b "MLS, U.S. Soccer officially announce new TV deal with ESPN, Fox, Univision". December 13, 2015. Retrieved May 28, 2016. 
  27. ^ "MLS signs six-year TV deal with Canada's TSN". February 14, 2011. Retrieved May 28, 2016. 
  28. ^ a b c d Sports Business Daily, MLS attendance, TV viewership numbers slip, November 3, 2008,
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h i MLS 2016 TV Thread (Ratings, Historical Data, Contracts etc), July 8, 2016,
  30. ^ World Soccer Talk, MLS TV Ratings Continue Decline, November 9, 2008,
  31. ^ a b Sports Business Daily, MLS Regular-Season Audience Up Across ESPN/ESPN2, Fox Soccer, October 26, 2011,
  32. ^ World Soccer Talk, "MLS 2010 Season Viewership Down 12% on ESPN2", October 31, 2010,
  33. ^ Sports Business Daily, "MLS Has Best Regular-Season Audience Yet on ESPN/ESPN2; NBCSN Off To Good Start", November 28, 2012,
  34. ^ Sports Business, Journal, "Attendance strong, but MLS sees TV dip", November 4, 2013,
  35. ^ "Big jump in MLS viewers on ESPN2 and NBCSN", Soccer America, November 3, 2014.
  36. ^ "MLS TV numbers increase on FOX Sports and ESPN for 2015 regular season - World Soccer Talk". October 27, 2015. Retrieved July 11, 2016. 
  37. ^ "TV ratings for MLS are up from last year on all ESPN platforms", July 27, 2016.
  38. ^ "MLS’s improved TV ratings on FOX and ESPN are welcome, but they’re only baby steps", July 28, 2016.
  39. ^ "MLS Wrap: MLS Cup Earns Second-Lowest Rating; Regular Season Up", Sports Media Watch, December 7, 2012.
  40. ^ "MLS Cup watched by nearly two million viewers, capping off record-setting MLS postseason",, December 11, 2014.
  41. ^ "MLS Scores Largest Single-Network Audience in Eight Years", Sports Media Watch, June 30, 2016.
  42. ^ "TV ratings for MLS are up from last year on all ESPN platforms", July 27, 2016.
  43. ^ "UniMas, ESPN2 and Fox Sports 1 score big TV ratings on MLS's opening weekend", March 11, 2015.