Midafternoon today, YouTube TV subscribers in Washington were delivered a rather surprising message. The Seattle Sounders channel — where all of the team’s league games over the past two seasons could be watched both live and on DVR — will be deleted as of Friday along with any of the recordings.
A short while later, the YouTube TV Twitter account provided a bit more context.
Unfortunately, our 2-year partnership w/ Sounders FC expired. We have no knowledge of how they will distribute local matches in 2020. You may still see the Sounders on YouTube TV if their games air on a network available on YouTube TV. We sincerely apologize for the disruption.— YouTube TV (@YouTubeTV) December 12, 2019
It’s unclear at whose behest the relationship was not renewed or why the news came about so suddenly — there had been no hint of it prior to Thursday — but either way it means the Sounders will be looking for a new streaming partner for 2020 and beyond. Among the potential streaming options are carriers like Amazon Prime, Facebook and Hulu, the last of which has recently made a move into broadcasting live sporting events. FloSports made a big splash last year in scooping up several live sporting events but are unlikely to be in consideration for the Sounders after their broadcasts were almost universally panned by FC Cincinnati and D.C. United fans. If no regional streaming option is made available, the games will almost certainly be available on ESPN+.
While their streaming future is unclear, local broadcasts will remain on JOEtv, where the Sounders have been regularly breaking MLS ratings records for regional broadcasts, including in 2019.
Getting games to fans in Eastern Washington has proven far more problematic. For a time, some Sounders games were available through ROOT Sports Northwest. But their games were more often than not pre-empted by various other sports — and even by Portland Timbers matches — pushing them to tape-delayed replays. In 2018, most Sounders games were available on ESPN+ to those in Eastern Washington, but that ended in 2019 when YouTube TV expanded their footprint to the entire state.
In theory, the YouTube TV deal made games available to a wider swath of Eastern Washington fans than ever before. But in practice, many fans were reluctant to pay the $35-$50 per month subscription fee — meant for full-blown cord-cutters — just to get access to Sounders games, even if the cost included access to both regional and national broadcast games.
The Sounders could potentially get onto broadcast channels in Eastern Washington, but would probably have to pay for time rather than be paid. Although details were never revealed, it is believed that YouTube paid a significant fee for the Sounders’ regional streaming rights (potentially as much as YouTube paid Los Angeles FC for the full sponsorship and streaming package). The Sounders would likely be looking for a similar arrangement in the future.