L.A. Galaxy midfielder Juninho battles Houston Dynamo forward Will Bruin… (Luis Sinco, Los Angeles…)
Comcast Corp.'s NBC Sports Group has scored a broadcast-and-cable-rights deal with Major League Soccer, its latest move in a push to compete more aggressively against ESPN and Fox Sports.
Although Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN is still the primary home of Major League Soccer and carries most of the major games, the new MLS partnership is a blow to News Corp.'s Fox Sports, whose package was acquired by NBC Sports. Spanish-language broadcaster Univision also has MLS rights.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but people familiar the matter put the price tag between $10 million and $12 million a year over three years.
The accord will put soccer on NBC as well as Versus, the cable sports channel that is being renamed NBC Sports Network at the start of 2012. The deal covers 45 games, the majority of which will be on cable. NBC will broadcast two regular-season games and two playoff games as well as appearances by the U.S. men's national team.
One big selling point for NBC Sports over Fox is that the Versus channel is distributed in close to 80 million homes, while Fox Soccer is in just under 40 million homes. Comcast already has a relationship with MLS as five of its regional sports channels carry the league's games.
"Our new partnership with the NBC Sports Group is a significant step forward for Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer," said Don Garber, commissioner of Major League Soccer and chief executive of Soccer United Marketing.
Fox Soccer was carrying only one MLS game a week so the loss will not leave a huge hole in its lineup. Typically, the games draw lower ratings than the soccer coverage it provides from around the globe, particularly coverage of the English Premiere League.
Over the last few months, NBC Sports has struck agreements to retain the rights to the Olympics through the 2020 Games as well as to National Hockey League contests. However, it lost the rights to Wimbledon to ESPN.
The next big fish that NBC Sports will try to land is the NFL's new eight-game package of Thursday night games.