Yes, NBC Sports relationship with soccer isn't historically strong. Their connection with the NHL and the Tour de France wasn't strong either, and then they took those on and have more than succeeded. NBC and Versus have managed to create a strong hockey presence, and that's the hope of every Major League Soccer fan with the new agreement that starts in 2012.
The announcement was made today by MLS Commissioner and Soccer United Marketing CEO Don Garber and Mark Lazarus, Chairman, NBC Sports Group.
"Everyone at the NBC Sports Group is thrilled to begin this partnership with Major League Soccer," said Lazarus. "MLS is a perfect fit for our new group, and 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. Additionally, this agreement complements the partnerships that five of our regional sports networks have with their local MLS teams."
The ease of access for highlight and news programming to matches that aren't directly carried (which should be a regular night of programming plus another every three weeks or so) as well as MLS being one an annual backbone for the network should mean that non-soccer specific programming still has soccer elements in it.
Obviously NBC's broadcast station is available nearly everywhere, but there is also a much greater penetration for Versus/NBC Sports than Fox Soccer. The number of households that can actually watch soccer at home nearly doubles from under 40 Million to over 70 Million. That's just another great opportunity for ratings expansion. There are reports that the deal also increased revenue for MLS/SUM by about 3 Million dollars. This small increase should help quality of play, but not by a magical number working out to just over $100,000 per team if split evenly.
But there is a greater opportunity during the launch year.
NBC Sports is most well-known for their Olympics coverage and that will be true for 2012. Soccer in the Olympics is usually a lesser covered sport, but with the MLS deal it makes sense for it to be a bigger deal than originally planned. For 2012 the plan was probably to give it larger coverage anyway as the facilities being used are places like Wembley. While the unified UK team will get a lot of attention, there is a strong chance that MLS will be well represented, if the USA makes it.
Early projections as to who will get picked for the squad indicate that the league should be well represented. Eight of the 18 there are MLS players and will still be next season. If the Freddy Adu to Chivas USA rumor happens things get even better for MLS with a name that is known in sports in a major international event and the League getting regular mentions.
Synergy between networks and events is always a target, but with the Olympics it should be easy to accomplish. The opportunity for bump is greater than the World Cup as more MLS players should be involved and both events are keys to the sports strategy of the parent network, as opposed to MLS being an after thought for ESPN.
With all 3 national TV contract up at the same time the play in 2014 will be for a huge deal encompassing MLS, the USMNT and other soccer properties controlled by SUM. As NBC Sports will already have 2 of the 3 national deals (they own the Spanish language partner already) the battle between they and ABC/ESPN should lead to even more money, more coverage and ultimately higher quality soccer.
Today is a good day in American soccer.