Major League Soccer’s media rights deal with FOX, ESPN and Univision is set to expire after the 2022 season, and the league’s recent growth seems to position it for a massive improvement on the current deal.
The league is seeking $300 million in a new media rights deal, CNBC reported Saturday. That’s more than three times the current deal, which generates about $90 million for the league.
The 2021 MLS Cup, which New York City FC won in penalties over the Portland Timbers, was a boon for viewership, with 1.6 million viewers making it the fifth-most watched MLS Cup since 2009. The Thanksgiving playoff game between the Timbers and Colorado Rapids also averaged 1.8 million viewers, making it the most-watched MLS game since April 2004 and the most-watched MLS game on FOX platforms.
MLS is still firmly behind Liga MX and the English Premier League, though. NBCUniversal, which holds Premier League rights, said it averaged 414,000 viewers for each EPL game in the 2020-21 season. MLS stated that it averaged 276,000 viewers for 31 regular season games on ESPN channels. Of course, the EPL is a much higher-profile league and NBC’s rights deal for that league is $2.7 billion over six years.
NBC’s Premier League rights deal jumped from $1 billion in the previous deal to $2.7 billion in a new deal, which was finalized in November. That jump in value, plus the recent flurry of soccer media rights deals signed by Paramount Plus, could be a bargaining chip for MLS, CNBC reported.
MLS commissioner Don Garber said the league is seeking to make the new media rights deal all-inclusive, with all games available in every market. That includes streaming rights and potentially sports betting.
“Many years ago we went to our clubs and said, all of your local deals need to expire by the end of the  season,” Garber said in his State of the League address on Dec. 7. “All of your streaming deals need to expire,” Garber added. “All of your data deals, all of your sports betting deals, everything that has a touch point with a consumer is all now in a package that we’re able to engage with traditional media companies that are transforming themselves digitally, to new media companies.”
The Leagues Cup, which has been overhauled completely for next season, could be another major factor in negotiations. The new format is a monthlong competition starting in 2023 that will pit each MLS team against teams in Liga MX. A tie-in with Liga MX, a hugely popular league that generated 359,000 viewers on Univision in 2021, could hand MLS another advantage in negotiations.