Fox Soccer, MLS Kick Off Year With Deal

After allowing its contract with Major League Soccer to expire in November, Fox Soccer has re-upped its contract with the league for a single year. Both sides have completed a deal that gives Fox Soccer the rights to carry up to 31 regular season games, plus three exclusive MLS Cup playoff matches.

The Fox Soccer package is MLS’ third broadcasting covenant. The league also has separate pacts with ESPN2 and Univision, both of which are set to expire in 2014. Fox Soccer’s 2011 MLS slate includes 15 Saturday-night and 14 Friday-
night matches, of which 20 are exclusive to the network.

While MLS likely was looking for a long-term deal with Fox Soccer, the league may have torpedoed itself late last year when it looked to jack up its rights fee to a whopping $20 million per season. Not only does that price represent a seven-fold increase from the $3 million Fox has paid each year since 2007, but it’s also more than double what ESPN2 and Univision cough up in accordance with their respective contracts.

Terms of the one-year deal were not disclosed. Fox Soccer is believed to have offered MLS no more than $7.5 million for the new slate.

Fox Soccer has been a national broadcast partner of MLS since 2003.

According to Nielsen, MLS games on Fox Soccer drew an average audience of just 53,000 total viewers in 2010, flat versus the previous season. By comparison, the fully distributed ESPN2 (100 million subs) last season delivered an average crowd of 249,000 MLS fans. (Those aren’t exactly blockbuster numbers either; versus the 2009 MLS campaign, ESPN2’s deliveries dropped 12 percent from 284,000. To put it another way, women’s basketball outdrew the MLS last year, as ESPN2 averaged 258,000 viewers with its WNBA regular season coverage.)

Fox Soccer boasts approximately 40 million subscribers and is the primary broadcast partner of the UEFA Champions League. The channel also carries matches from England’s Barclays Premier League and Italy’s Series A, among other top-flight soccer confederations.