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Major League Soccer on television

Major League Soccer on television has been broadcast live in the U.S. nationally since the league's inception in 1996—although, ESPN signed with Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1994, two years before the league's debut—and in Canada since 2007.[1] Prominent Spanish broadcaster Univision Deportes is the exclusive Spanish language home of U.S. Soccer[2]


  • History (U.S.) 1
    • 1990s–2006 1.1
    • 2007–2014 1.2
    • 2015–2022 1.3
  • History (Canada) 2
  • Current national broadcasting contracts 3
    • United States 3.1
    • Canada 3.2
  • Ratings and viewers 4
    • Regular season 4.1
    • MLS Cup final 4.2
  • Previous national broadcasting networks 5
  • MLS broadcasts 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8

History (U.S.)


Major League Soccer with ESPN and ABC Sports announced the league's first television rights deal on March 15, 1994, without any players, coaches, or teams in place.[3] The three-year agreement covered English-language broadcasting for the 1996-1998 seasons, and committed 10 games on ESPN, 25 on ESPN2, and the MLS Cup on ABC. The deal gave MLS no rights fees, but the advertising revenue was divided between the league and networks.[4]

During the 1990s, Univision and Galavisión broadcast matches in Spanish. The original Univision deal ended in 1999 (Source). Telemundo picked up MLS in 2000 (Source), but disputes over time slots led to the network dropping MLS after the 2001 season (Source). ABC and ESPN were left as the only MLS broadcasters in 2002.

In 2003, Fox Sports World (later Fox Soccer Channel) also became an English-language TV partner to MLS, while Fox Sports en Español became the Spanish-language partner in the same year.[5]


In August 2006, MLS and ESPN announced an eight-year contract spanning 2007–2014 giving the league its first rights-fee agreement worth US$8 million annually.[6] The deal gave the MLS a regular primetime slot on Thursdays, televised coverage of the first round of the MLS SuperDraft and an expanded presence on other ESPN properties, such as ESPN360 (now ESPN3) and Mobile ESPN. The agreement also placed each season’s opening match, the MLS All-Star Game and the MLS Cup on ABC.[7]

In September 2006, the media announced a deal between the Univision network and Soccer United Marketing (SUM) worth US$80 million. The network agreed to broadcast 25 MLS games per season, ten U.S. men’s national team games and five international matches operated by SUM;[2] although, ratings were volatile.[8]

Disappointing ratings led to a 2008 push by ESPN to bolster its poularity through measures such as using JP Dellacamera, a veteran play-by-play soccer commentator, instead of baseball announcer Dave O’Brien, as well as an arrangement to simulcast MLS games in Spanish on ESPN Deportes, with the intention of gaining additional Hispanic viewers with a Spanish style. ESPN programming executive Scott Guglielmino explained: “From my perspective, the only question in my mind when it comes to growth is how quickly over time MLS and its management group want to spend on players ... You’re in a worldwide market. The question is how quickly the ownership group wants to push that envelope.”[5]

After two years of low ratings, network executives decided to transfer all ABC games to ESPN. The MLS Cup had been broadcast on ABC each year from 1996 to 2008, but with ratings declining from 1.4, in 1996 and 1997, to 0.6 in 2008, the MLS Cup was moved to ESPN at the start of 2009.[9] The network also replaced the regular Thursday night telecast with a "game of the week" on either Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday nights, to give MLS games better lead-in programming and more flexibility to air better matchups.[10]

In 2011, Fox Soccer Channel and MLS agreed to a one-year extension to televise up to 31 regular-season games and three playoff game, in a deal worth around US$7 million.[11][12][13] MLS Wrap was a MLS highlight show that aired on Fox Soccer Channel that was often hosted by Sean Wheelock, with analyst John Harkes.[14]

The 2012 season saw a broadcasting change, with MLS moving its English-language broadcast partners from ESPN and Fox Soccer to ESPN and NBC Sports. MLS benefitted from the change, as the NBC Sports Network was shown in approximately twice as many homes as Fox Soccer (an increase from 9 million to 77 million viewers). NBCSN broadcast 44 matches and NBC broadcast 5 matches—the average combined audience for NBC and NBCSN's games in 2012 was 122 percent higher than the average audience for FSC's games in 2011.[15] ESPN ratings also increased in 2012 from the prior year, as a number of MLS games were shown on ESPN in 2012, instead of a primary focus on ESPN2, as had been the case previously.[16]


On May 12, 2014, an eight-year deal announcement was made by MLS, U.S. Soccer, ESPN, FOX Sports, and Univision, representing the first time in history that all three television partners—ESPN, FOX Sports and Univision Deportes—will feature an exclusive MLS Match of the Week. The new agreements also consist of marketing and promotional support from all of the partners involved.[17] The Sports Business Journal has calculated that the combined average annual fee will be around US$90 million per season, which is five times the size of the $18 million the league had received up until that point.[18] ESPN and Fox Sports will split English-language television rights for the 2015–2022 seasons, paying $75 million per year, while Univision will pay $15 million annually for the Spanish-language rights during the 2015-2022 period.[19] In addition to increased revenue, MLS also receives for the first time consistent days and times in national telecasts — Sundays from 5-7pm on ESPN2, and Sundays from 7-9pm on Fox Sports 1 — in the league's push to improve its TV ratings.[20]

Commissioner Garber stated at the announcement: “these new partnerships are another strong indicator of the League’s continued growth and the overall fan interest in our sport.” U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati declared: “The commitment made by our television partners to broadcast such a wide range and quantity of games demonstrates the growing demand for soccer in our country.”[17]

History (Canada)

Coverage of MLS expanded into Canada in 2007 with the addition of Toronto FC. From 2007 to 2010, CBC, Sportsnet, and later GolTV Canada, broadcast Toronto FC games nationwide, and GolTV carried broadcasts of selected regular-season games not involving Toronto FC.

In 2011, the TSN networks announced a six-year deal for national MLS broadcast rights in Canada for the 2011–2016 seasons. TSN and TSN2 broadcast 24 games during the 2011 season and a minimum of 30 games during each of the subsequent five seasons, all featuring at least one Canadian team. French-language sister networks RDS and RDS2 have similar broadcast rights. The networks also carry additional games not involving Canadian teams.[21] GolTV Canada continues to carry selected all-U.S. MLS matchups.[22]

As in the United States, the individual Canadian teams have also negotiated separate broadcast deals for games not aired under the TSN/RDS national contract. TSN and Sportsnet split coverage of Toronto FC regional games, TVA Sports airs Montreal Impact games,[23] and TSN broadcasts the Vancouver Whitecaps in a separate deal.[24][25]

Current national broadcasting contracts

United States

Network Current contract Annual rights fee Regular-season
Language Ref
ESPN 2007–2014 $8 million 5 English [26]
ESPN2 15 English
ESPN Deportes 21*
MP & Silva
(Int'l broadcast)
2008-2014 $2–10 million [27][28][29]
NBC 2012–2014 $10 million 3 2 English [30][31]
NBCSN 38 3 English
UniMás 2007–2014 $9–10 million 26 Spanish [2][32]
Univision 2013–2014 TBA 23 Spanish
  • ESPNDeportes will transmit all 20 ESPN and ESPN2 games, and will additionally transmit 1 original broadcast.


Network Current contract Annual rights fee Regular-season
Language Ref
TSN 2011–2016 30 English [33]
TSN2 English
RDS 2012–2016 French

Ratings and viewers

Regular season

Year Channel Telecasts Viewers (Ratings) Channel Telecasts Viewers (Ratings)
English Language Spanish Language
2006[34] ESPN2 21 263,000 (0.2)
Fox Soccer --
2007 [34] ESPN2 25 289,000 (0.2)
Fox Soccer --
2008[35] ESPN2 26 253,000 (0.2)
Fox Soccer* 30,000 (0.1) Telefutura 26 254,000
2009[36] ESPN2 26 299,000
Fox Soccer 34 53,000
2010[37] ESPN2 25 253,000
Fox Soccer 31 53,000
2011[36] ESPN2 20 290,000
Fox Soccer 27 70,000
2012[38][39] ESPN / ESPN2 20 311,000 Univision & Telefutura
NBC Sports 40 125,000 Galavision 21
2013[40] ESPN / ESPN2 20 220,000 (0.1)
NBC Sports 37 112,000 (0.1) Unimas 26 229,000
2014[41] ESPN2 20 240,000 (0.2)
NBC Sports 38 142,000 (0.1) Univision 28
2015 ESPN / ESPN2 34
Fox Sports 1 34 Univision 34


  • The increased numbers of viewers in 2007 coincided with the arrival of David Beckham to MLS.[34]
  • Although the viewing numbers on ESPN2 declined by 36,000 from 2007 to 2008, ESPN began simulcasting MLS games on ESPN Deportes in 2008, attracting an average of 40,000 viewers.[34]
  • Fox Soccer began getting ratings in October 2008. The Fox Soccer numbers for 2008 represent only the last four matches of the season. Viewership numbers prior to October 2008 are unavailable.[34]

MLS Cup final

Year Network Rating Viewers
1996 ABC 1.4
1997 ABC 1.4
1998 ABC 1.0
1999 ABC 0.7
Year Network Rating Viewers
2000 ABC 0.7
2001 ABC 1.0
2002 ABC 0.8 1.2m
2003 ABC 0.6 0.9m
2004 ABC 0.8
2005 ABC 0.8 1.1m
2006 ABC 0.8 1.2m
2007 ABC 0.8 1.1m
2008 ABC 0.6 0.9m
2009 ESPN 0.7 1.1m

Year Network Rating Viewers
2010[44] ESPN 0.4 0.7m
2011[45] ESPN 0.8 1.0m
2012[46] ESPN 0.7 0.8m
2013 ESPN 0.5 0.5m

Previous national broadcasting networks

MLS broadcasts

See also


  1. ^ "ESPN acquires rights to Major League Soccer". OurSports Central. August 6, 2006. Retrieved February 22, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c "Univision Signs Eight-Year Agreement To Broadcast MLS Games". SportsBusiness Daily. September 26, 2006. Retrieved February 22, 2012. 
  3. ^ "U.S. Pro League Moves Along By Signing a Television Deal". The New York Times. March 16, 1994. Retrieved February 22, 2012. 
  4. ^ "U.S. Pro League Moves Along By Signing a Television Deal". The New York Times. March 16, 1994. Retrieved February 22, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Tripp Mickle (March 24, 2008). "ESPN kicks up efforts to bolster MLS ratings". Sports Business Daily Global Journal. American City Business Journals. Retrieved May 18, 2014. 
  6. ^ "ESPN, MLS Reach Eight-Year TV Deal That Includes Rights Fees". SportsBusiness Daily. August 7, 2006. Retrieved February 22, 2012. 
  7. ^ "ESPN, MLS Reach Eight-Year TV Deal That Includes Rights Fees". SportsBusiness Daily. August 7, 2006. Retrieved February 22, 2012. 
  8. ^ Soccerist, The (January 8, 2013). "A breakdown of TV viewership-worse than we thought". The Soccerist. Retrieved September 16, 2013. 
  9. ^ Paulsen (November 24, 2010). "Record Low Rating For 2010 MLS Cup". Sports Media Watch. Sports Media Watch. Retrieved May 18, 2014. 
  10. ^ "ESPN booting MLS from its Thursday slot". SportsBusiness Journal. January 19, 2009. Retrieved February 22, 2012. 
  11. ^ "MLS extends TV deal with Fox Soccer Channel for one year". Usatoday.Com. February 18, 2011. Retrieved March 26, 2012. 
  12. ^ "MLS And FOX Soccer Channel Agree On One-Year Contract Extension". February 18, 2011. Retrieved March 26, 2012. 
  13. ^ "Fox Soccer Channel Finalizes Deal With MLS, Reportedly Worth $6.25 Million A Year". February 18, 2011. Retrieved March 26, 2012. 
  14. ^ "Memo to Fox Soccer Channel: 5 Ways to Improve FSC", World Soccer Talk, November 25, 2007.
  15. ^, Analyzing NBC's ratings in its first season of broadcasting Major League Soccer, November 29, 2012,
  16. ^ SportsBusiness Journal (November 29, 2012). "TV ratings for MLS up across the board". Sporting Soccer. Retrieved May 18, 2014. 
  17. ^ a b MLS Communications (May 13, 2014). "MLS, U.S. Soccer sign landmark TV and media rights partnerships with ESPN, FOX & Univision Deportes". MLS Major League Soccer. Retrieved May 18, 2014. 
  18. ^ John McDuling (May 12, 2014). "Here’s more evidence that Americans are growing fond of soccer". Quartz. Retrieved May 18, 2014. 
  19. ^ May 12, 2014, Page 1. "MLS’s big play - SportsBusiness Daily | SportsBusiness Journal | SportsBusiness Daily Global". SportsBusiness Daily. Retrieved May 12, 2014. 
  20. ^ "MLS’s big play", Sports Business Journal, May 12, 2014.
  21. ^  
  22. ^   (lists carriage of a Los Angeles vs. Seattle MLS game)
  23. ^ Delia-Lavictoire, Yvan (July 14, 2011). "Impact sign multimedia deal, name TVA Sports broadcaster". Retrieved August 7, 2011. 
  24. ^ "Every Game, All Season Long: MLS ON TSN Kicks Off its Complete Coverage of Vancouver Whitecaps FC This Saturday". Bell Media PR. Retrieved April 5, 2014. 
  25. ^ "TSN to broadcast all Whitecaps FC games beginning in 2014". Retrieved January 21, 2014. 
  26. ^ "ESPN networks to air 21 regular-season matches in 2012". January 5, 2012. Retrieved February 22, 2012. 
  27. ^ "MP & Silva". 
  28. ^ "MP & Silva extends MLS deal - Sports Broadcast news - Soccer North America". SportsPro Media. Retrieved September 16, 2013. 
  29. ^ "MLS sells international TV rights to MP & Silva". Sports Business Daily. December 22, 2008. Retrieved May 16, 2014. 
  30. ^ "NBC Signs Three-Year Deal With MLS For Fox Soccer's Television Package". SportsBusiness Daily. August 10, 2011. Retrieved February 22, 2012. 
  31. ^ "NBC networks to air 41 regular-season matches in 2012". January 5, 2012. Retrieved February 22, 2012. 
  32. ^ "Galavision to air 27 MLS matches in 2012". January 5, 2012. Retrieved February 22, 2012. 
  33. ^ "TSN BECOMES OFFICIAL BROADCASTER OF MLS IN CANADA". TSN. February 14, 2011. Retrieved February 22, 2012. 
  34. ^ a b c d e Sports Business Daily, MLS attendance, TV viewership numbers slip, November 3, 2008,
  35. ^ World Soccer Talk, MLS TV Ratings Continue Decline, November 9, 2008,
  36. ^ a b Sports Business Daily, MLS Regular-Season Audience Up Across ESPN/ESPN2, Fox Soccer, October 26, 2011,
  37. ^ World Soccer Talk, MLS 2010 Season Viewership Down 12% on ESPN2, October 31, 2010,
  38. ^ Sports Business Daily, MLS Has Best Regular-Season Audience Yet On ESPN/ESPN2; NBCSN Off To Good Start, November 28, 2012,
  39. ^ TV Media Insights, Major League Soccer TV Ratings in 2012,
  40. ^ Sports Business, Journal, Attendance strong, but MLS sees TV dip, November 4, 2013,
  41. ^ "Big jump in MLS viewers on ESPN2 and NBCSN", Soccer America, November 3, 2014.
  42. ^ "Record Low Rating For 2010 MLS Cup". Sports Media Watch, November 24, 2010.
  43. ^ "Record Low Rating For 2010 MLS Cup". Sports Media Watch, November 24, 2010.
  44. ^ "Record Low Rating For 2010 MLS Cup". Sports Media Watch, November 24, 2010.
  45. ^ "MLS Wrap: MLS Cup Earns Second-Lowest Rating; Regular Season Up", Sports Media Watch, December 7, 2012.
  46. ^ "MLS Wrap: MLS Cup Earns Second-Lowest Rating; Regular Season Up", Sports Media Watch, December 7, 2012.
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