Last night, the U.S. men’s national team, in its first match under new manager Jurgen Klinsmann, tied Mexico 1-1 in Philadelphia. Afterward, Klinsmann in an interview on ESPN2, which covered the match, was enthused by the result.
The U.S. played better in the second half and could have won it down the stretch, he said. After three straight losses to El Tri, it was an encouraging result for Sam’s Army, especially for a friendly.
Earlier in the day, NBC Sports Group and MLS announced a new three-year rights pact, kicking off in 2012, that will put NBC on the pitch for two regular-season and a pair of playoff of games during each year of the contract. That will mark the first time four MLS matches will be broadcast on English-language network television since 2002. NBC will also a pair of men’s national team matches every year.
More importantly, NBC Sports Network, the service still known as Versus until Jan. 2, 2012 and looking to bolster its property roster, picks up 38 regular-season matches, three playoff contests and a pair of MNT affairs in each year of the agreement.
Pre-and post-match coverage on both networks are also part of the mix, as are digital rights.
The price of NBC Sports Group’s entry, which came at the expense of Fox Soccer, which had signed a one-year MLS extension in February is relatively inexpensive, either $30 million or $36 million over the three-year term, depending on whom one talks to.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber was a happy camper, touting the promotional power of NBC Sports Group’s varied assets, including the five Comcast regional sports networks that already held local rights deals with MLS clubs, as well as how the Peacock and Versus have helped boost the Nielsens and marquee of the NHL.
NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus called MLS “a perfect fit for our new group. We are uniquely positioned to help grow soccer in the United States with extensive coverage on NBC Sports Network, significant programming on the broadcast network and our growing digital platforms.”
For its part, Fox Soccer said the right things as well. “Although we’re disappointed MLS chose to go in a different direction, we wish them well, while Fox Soccer continues to support the sport’s growth in the U.S. through our in-depth coverage showcasing the most revered leagues, teams, players and competitions from around the globe,” said Fox Soccer general manager David Nathanson.
In the short term, the rebranded Fox Soccer lost out on the domestic league, but it’s a low-rated property, with flat ratings of around a 0.1 over the past two season. More importantly, Fox Soccer is still making its bones with the much-better- performing UEFA Champions League, England’s Barclays Premier League and Italy’s Serie A.
The question is what if MLS ratings improve significantly under the watch of NBC Sports Network, and/or it also has a need for more of the beautiful game.
Fox Soccer’s contract with Serie A expire after the 2012 season, with the Barclays Premier League the year after and UEFA Champions League in 2015. MLS’s deals with ESPN and Univision also expire in 2014.
Although flanked by premium channel Fox Soccer Plus, FX, Fox, FSN’s RSN empire and Fox Deportes, Fox Soccer itself counts only about half as many subs as NBC Sports Network. In addition to the Peacock, NBC Sports Group also can bring 11 Comcast RSNs to the negotiating table, not to mention myriad NBCUniversal properties.
Who knows? Maybe NBC Sports Network acquires an eight-game NFL Thursday night package; grabs some Notre Dame football as Lazarus indicates will happen; gets involved with the Big East; becomes the de facto pre-Olympic channel and carries plenty of Games action. Maybe any or all of those things happen in a drive to elevate the profile and the monthly license fee for NBC Sports Network beyond Versus’ current 30-cent take. And maybe NBC Sports Group also wants to play harder on the futbol field to boot.
Bidding for the aforementioned properties — the men’s 2018 and 2022 World Cups and other FIFA rights also figure to go to bid in October 2013 — might not be as friendly.