Having wrested the rights to air Major League Soccer games from Fox Soccer Channel, NBC Sports Network is making a home for the league with new production tactics, analysis and amped up marketing. But it’s not just the fledgling network that stands to gain from the deal. MLS itself hopes the partnership will grow the league as much as the net’s seeking ratings, which are looking up, likely in large part due to NBCSN’s distribution advantage over FSC: NBCSN’s in 79.3mln homes vs FSC’s 41mln. Fox Soccer averaged 68K viewers over the last season, while NBCSN has averaged 109K viewers after 8 telecasts, up 70% compared to the first 8 games on FCS last season. From a production standpoint, NBCSN has been creative. Its new “between the benches” commentary, which involves color analyst Kyle Martino‘s tactical observations at the field level to complement traditional analysis from the booth, has elicited a positive response from the soccer community, fans and the league. “There was a lot of skepticism when we made this deal,” said pres, programming, NBC Sports Group Jon Miller, namely the league’s decision to move from a soccer-dedicated network to one with no experience covering the sport. Moreover, NBCSN’s promotional focus on the U.S. played a major factor in the decision, according to an MLS rep. With Fox Soccer throwing support behind international leagues like the English Premier League, Champions League and World Cup, which it scored rights to in 2018 and 2022, MLS had plenty of inter-sport competition. At NBCSN, the opposite is true. Once MLS joined the network, NBC flexed its marketing muscle by running spots in Sunday Night Football pre-season games. Not surprisingly, NBCSN plans to use Olympics coverage as a lead into MLS programming. “We’ll have an enormous amount of programming from London, and we’re going to put 5 games right up against the end of the Olympic coverage on NBC Sports Network,” said Miller. Another major focus is star power. NBCSN plans to exploit the league’s stars, like internationals David Beckham and Thierry Henry, with pre-game specials, modeled after what it’s done with hockey’s NHL 36 shoulder programming. Meanwhile, Time Warner Cable has taken an interest in the league. MLS will get a regional boost in coverage Oct 1 from the MSO, which scored a 10-year deal late last year for LA Galaxy rights for its upcoming regional sports networks in Los Angeles. It’s the most extensive partnership among all MLS clubs, according to MLS, and features a package in both English and Spanish (to air on Time Warner Cable Deportes), which could help grow the league’s Hispanic audience. For its part, Fox Soccer remains committed to the sport, but on an international level. According to Fox Soccer GM David Nathanson, the FSC’s soccer audience has grown by triple digits in the last 2 years, and though MLS decided to go elsewhere, the success of the league can only be positive. “The more people that are interested in soccer rights, the more people that are viewing soccer content across a variety of platforms, the more people will be interested in Fox Soccer.” The MLS contract with NBCSN, ESPN and Galavision are up simultaneously in 3 year’s time, at which point all league games—including the MLS All-Star game and MLS Cup, currently aired by ESPN—are up for grabs. Whether star power, creative commentary and Spanish-language broadcasts will help grow the league is uncertain—but it will certainly be fun to watch.

The Daily


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