Fox Sports gets to keep Major League Soccer on its networks, striking a four-year linear rights agreement with the league.
The renewal ends ESPN and ABC’s 26-year run as MLS broadcast partners. Disney’s networks had aired games since the league’s founding in 1996.
The league also announced a four-year Spanish-language deal with TelevisaUnivision, an original MLS broadcaster. Meanwhile, TSN and RDS landed the rights in Canada.
Fox Sports will have 34 regular season games across its networks, plus eight playoff games, the MLS Cup, the Leagues Cup tournament, as well as highlight rights. At least 15 regular season games will air on Fox, with the rest on FS1. All of the Fox Sports games will also air in Spanish on Fox Deportes.
The deal runs from 2023 through 2026, when the FIFA Men’s World Cup will be hosted by the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
With the announcement, Fox Sports continues its longstanding relationship with the league, being a partner since 2015 and from 2003 to 2011.
“We’re proud to extend our longstanding partnership with Major League Soccer at a truly exciting time for the sport here in the United States,” Eric Shanks, CEO and executive producer, Fox Sports, said in a statement. “There is no soccer league in the world better positioned for growth, and with Fox’s unrivaled reach, we are fired up to be a part of it.”
Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but Fox and Disney’s expiring deal paid a combined $75 million per year, with Univision paying approximately $15 million.
That number pales in comparison to the $250 million per year 10-year streaming deal Apple and MLS struck earlier this year.
A complementary partnership
Apple and MLS’ groundbreaking deal made Apple the exclusive streaming home of every live MLS match without any local broadcast blackouts or restrictions.
The new streaming service, MLS Season Pass, launches Feb. 1, 2023, and will cost soccer fans $14.99 per month or $99 for the whole season. For Apple TV+ subscribers, it’ll clock in at a discounted $12.99 per month or $79 for the season. In addition, some MLS and Leagues Cup matches will be available to Apple TV+ subscribers at no extra cost.
While MLS whittles down its English-language linear partners to one as its focus shifts to streaming, the league said the linear renewals complement its partnership with Apple.
“Our linear agreements, along with our partnership with Apple, are the culmination of a series of collaborative discussions to provide our fans with the most expansive and accessible lineup of programming MLS and our sport in the U.S. and Canada have ever seen–and by a significant margin,” MLS commissioner Don Garber, said in a statement.
Streaming brings the dollars
The MLS is just the latest league to chase big dollar streaming deals.
Turner Sports and the U.S. Soccer Federation previously announced an eight-year multimedia rights agreement that made HBO Max and cable networks TNT and TBS the exclusive English-language home for more than 20 Women’s and Men’s National Team matches each year, with the first matches arriving in January. Plus, Disney and the NHL announced a landmark rights deal last March for both linear and streaming properties, bringing the league to ESPN and ABC along with streamers ESPN+ and Hulu.
Additionally, the NFL rolled out its streaming service, NFL+, in July, featuring live out-of-market preseason games, live local and prime-time regular games and postseason games. But all eyes are on the league’s Sunday Night Ticket package, which is likely to move to streaming after nearly three decades on DirecTV. Apple and Google have emerged as frontrunners for those rights, but Amazon and ESPN remain in the hunt.
MLS’ deals are also serving as a benchmark for others. For instance, the WNBA’s rights deal is up in 2025, and commissioner Cathy Engelbert previously told Adweek the league is hunting for an agreement around the same price point as MLS, which could include a larger streaming component.