ESPN and ABC Sports have reached a five-year deal with Major League Soccer to
provide coverage of the men's professional-soccer league, as well as the next
three World Cup competitions.
The agreement, the financial terms of which were not disclosed, was actually
struck between the networks and a new company that has been formed by MLS
investors to manage sales, service and broadcast production for the World Cup
properties and the league's telecast and sponsorship rights.
Under terms of the pact -- which was announced Wednesday during a conference
call mired by technical difficulties -- ESPN and ESPN2 will present 17 and 46
2002 World Cup matches live, respectively.
The three opening-round games involving the U.S. national team will air on
the cable networks, which will re-air at least nine of the matches.
The 2002 World Cup will be held in Japan and South Korea in May and June,
meaning that the games will air in the middle of the night in this country.
For its part, ABC will televise nine 2002 World Cup matches -- eight on tape
and the final from Yokohoma, Japan, June 30 at 7 a.m.
The trio of The Walt Disney Co.-owned networks will also air a minimum of 11
Women's World Cup matches from China in 2003, with the championship match slated
ABC will show a minimum of one-dozen matches live from World Cup Germany in
2006, while other matches will air on the ESPN networks.
The pact, as expected, will make ESPN2 the home of MLS games on 22
consecutive Saturday afternoons at 4 p.m. next season, while ABC will air three
matches, including the All-Star game and MLS Cup.
MLS and ESPN2 have also agreed to televise as many as four late-season
contests on Thursday nights.
MLS, with the new investment company, purchased the English-language TV
rights in the United States from The Kirch Group, which represents Federation
Internationale de Football Association, soccer's world governing body.
Univision Communications Inc. holds the Spanish-language TV rights to World
Additionally, the new investor company secured MLS' broadcast and sponsorship
rights through the 2006 campaign.
The yet-to-be-named company -- principals of which include The Anschutz
Entertainment Group Inc., The Hunt Sports Group and Dentsu Inc. -- will package
the World Cup and MLS together in seeking sponsorship deals.
The matches will air commercial-free, with advertisers able to affiliate
themselves with a continuous score clock that has been a hallmark of ABC's,
ESPN's and ESPN2's soccer presentations since 1994.