Major League Soccer on television
Major League Soccer has been broadcast live in the U.S. nationally since the league's inception in 1996 and in Canada since 2007. 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 TVA Sports 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.
- 1 History (U.S.)
- 2 History (Canada)
- 3 Current broadcasting contracts
- 4 Ratings and viewers
- 5 Single-game records
- 6 Previous national broadcasting networks
- 7 MLS broadcasts
- 8 See also
- 9 References
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.
During the 1990s, Univision and Galavisión broadcast matches in Spanish. The original Univision deal ended in 1999. Telemundo picked up MLS in 2000, but disputes over time slots led to the network dropping MLS after the 2001 season. ABC and ESPN were left as the only MLS broadcasters in 2002.
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.
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; although, ratings were volatile.
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.”
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. 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.
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. MLS Wrap was a MLS highlight show that aired on Fox Soccer Channel that was often hosted by Sean Wheelock, with analyst John Harkes.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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".
In March 2017, it was announced that Facebook had reached a deal to stream English-language coverage of the nationally-televised games allotted to Univision. The streams would include interactive features, while MLS also announced that it would stream a news program known as Matchday Live on its Facebook page to compliment the new deal.
Prior to the 2018 season, ESPN invoked its option to take over the out-of-market streaming rights to Major League Soccer. The MLS Live service will be discontinued, as ESPN will stream out-of-market matches on its upcoming subscription service ESPN+. In the meantime, MLS Live was temporarily made available for free until the launch of ESPN+. Twitter replaced Facebook as the English streaming rightsholder for Univision's games under a three-year deal.
The 2018 season also saw significant developments in regional broadcast rights, as Chicago Fire SC and newly-established Los Angeles FC chose to sell their regional television rights exclusively to subscription streaming services (the aforementioned ESPN+, and YouTube TV, respectively), rather than a local broadcaster or regional sports network. Several teams (including Real Salt Lake and the Seattle Sounders) also reached in-market streaming deals alongside a flagship television broadcaster.
Coverage of MLS expanded into Canada in 2007 with the addition of Toronto FC. From 2007 to 2010, CBC, Sportsnet, and later GolTV Canada (owned by team parent company Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment), broadcast Toronto FC games nationwide, and GolTV carried broadcasts of selected regular-season games not involving Toronto FC.
Bell Media has held national English-language rights to Major League Soccer in Canada since 2011, and reached a 5-year extension beginning in the 2017 season. Games primarily air on the TSN networks, and beginning in 2017, selected games are simulcast on the CTV Television Network. As of the 2017 season, TVA Sports holds exclusive national French-language rights to Major League Soccer in Canada.
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 formerly split coverage of Toronto FC regional games (Sportsnet and TSN's parent companies hold a stake in the team's ownership), TVA Sports airs Montreal Impact games in a separate deal, and TSN broadcasts the Vancouver Whitecaps in a separate deal. As of the 2017 season, TSN holds exclusive rights to all Toronto FC games.
In the 2018 season, the out of market digital service MLS Live was discontinued in Canada. Out-of-market games will instead be streamed by DAZN as part of its service, with live and on-demand coverage of all-U.S. matches, and on a 48-hour delay for matches featuring Canadian teams.
Current broadcasting contracts
|Network||Current contract||Annual rights fee||Regular-season
|Fox Sports 1||34+||8/7††||English|
(English with MTS/SAP Button)
† ESPN Deportes and Fox Deportes will simulcast all 34+ ESPN and ESPN2 games and Fox Sports 1 and Fox games respectively, 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
Ratings and viewers
|Year||English Language||Spanish Language|
|Channel||Telecasts||Viewers (Ratings)||Channel||Telecasts||Viewers (Ratings)|
|Fox Soccer*||30,000 (0.1)|
|2012||ESPN / ESPN2||20||311,000||Galavisión||20||57,000|
|2013||ESPN / ESPN2||20||220,000 (0.1)||UniMás||23||223,000|
|2015||ESPN (8) / ESPN2 (26)||34||245,000||UniMás/UDN||42||244,000|
|Fox Sports 1||34||197,000|
|2016||ESPN (29) / ESPN2 (5)||34||274,000||UniMás/UDN||34+||245,000|
|Fox Sports 1||29||224,000|
|2017||ESPN(26) / ESPN2(3)||29||272,000||UniMás(18) / UDN (6)||24||265,000|
|Fox Sports 1||27||236,000|
- 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.
- 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.
- Bolded FOX OTA- (Over-The-Air) average viewing numbers includes the FOX Deportes Spanish language Simulcast average viewing number for the 2016–2017 seasons. 
MLS Cable Viewership Average
- Cable viewership average includes MLS average Television Viewing Audience across the National Broadcast Networks in which games air.
- Numbers do not include streaming viewership.
MLS Cup Finals
|1||1,558,000||July 15, 2018||FOX||Atlanta United vs. Seattle Sounders||Aired after the France v. Croatia World Cup final.|
|2||1,000,000||June 28, 2016||Univision||LA Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes||Aired after the USA v. Colombia Copa America match.|
|3||894,000||May 27, 2017||Univision||San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy||Aired after Mexico v. Croatia international friendly|
|4||676,000||March 31, 2018||FOX||LA Galaxy vs LAFC ||first El Tráfico|
|5||616,000||June 25, 2016||ESPN||Seattle Sounders vs. New York City FC|
Previous national broadcasting networks
- Univision, 1996–1999
- Telemundo, 2000–2001
- Fox Soccer, 2003–2011
- ABC, 1996–2008
- TeleFutura (now UniMás)
- Fox Sports en Español (now Fox Deportes)
- CBC, 2007–2009
- NBC Sports, 2012–2014
- Major League Soccer#Media coverage
- Soccer in the United States#Soccer on TV
- Major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada#Television exposure
- List of current Major League Soccer broadcasters
- Sports broadcasting contracts in the United States
- English football on television
- National Football League on television
- Major League Baseball television contracts
- National Basketball Association on television
- National Hockey League on television
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