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New MLS TV deal will change how you watch league

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Today's three network Major League Soccer TV eight-year deal reportedly injects 90 million dollars in revenue and locks in three regular time slots.

USA TODAY Sports

The formal announcement is still a couple hours away, but the Sports Business Journal already has almost all the details. It is a large step forward for revenue. According to SBJ the revenue is five times what the old combination of ESPN/NBC/Univision was and is now at 90 million dollars per year for the next eight seasons. Each of the partners on the new deal (ESPN/FoxSports/Univision) will have an exclusive time slot every single week.

  • ESPN will have Sunday 2 PM Pacific matches, mainly on ESPN2 (34 games)
  • FoxSports will have Sunday 5 PM Pacific matches, mainly on FoxSports1 (34 games)
  • Univision will own Friday nights with either a 4 PM or 8 PM Pacific game, mainly on UniMas (34 games)
  • ESPN is taking over streaming for all non-national games

The locked-in times and the big-for-MLS money are the headlines. But those last two notes are what will change how you watch this league. ESPN3 is authenticated based on ISP, not cable/satellite. And, there may be ways to get access if you don't have the preferred ISPs. From Philly.com;

But I was told Monday, and SBJ later confirmed, that discussions have been ongoing for MLS games on ESPN3 to not follow that model. There could be a paid subscription package for people who don't have ESPN3 access through their ISPs.

More details on how to access ESPN3 content, including a list of participating providers, are available here. In addition to being available via ESPN's website, ESPN3 has apps for iOS, Android and Windows 8 devices, Apple TV, Roku, Xbox Live and Amazon's FireTV.

Having apps with that kind of device penetration will put out-of-market games in front of anyone who wants to see them on a robust and well-tested system.

Those Friday night games are also going to be a giant shift in how you watch soccer. They will air in both Spanish & English, in many markets they will be available via antenna. Tannenwald has some interesting other details about the Univision portion of the deal.

- Between five and seven Friday doubleheaders on Univision Deportes on consecutive weeks in May and June, with two hours of ancillary programming around the games

- A weekly MLS wrapup show on Sundays, and a condensed match of the week

That expansion of coverage goes beyond what MLS has had in the past. Univision reportedly earns the highest ratings for soccer in America. Strengthening MLS' presence in front of that audience is a huge step. Including English language fans will only help the network that is already a fifth major.

With a minimum of 102 matches (though the details make it seem like many more are likely, just not in the firm slots) on networks that are carrying the current and next World Cups as well as being on the same stations as the most popular league in the USA (Liga MX) is a huge win for exposure. The league's ratings are trending up, this new contract should only boost it.

As in previous deals US National Team games are part of the contract. Those will be divided evenly between ESPN and FoxSports for English language coverage. Univision will have Spanish rights.

Your remote is going to find new stations. Your devices will flood with access to the league. There's good money involved (more than the EPL). It's a new era for MLS TV rights.