Are Local TV Deals Helping MLS?

martins-1024x576In sports, exposure for a franchise at its most basic level is achieved through advertising and television.   A recent article by the Sports Business Journal reported that many Major League Soccer teams are operating under new local television deals to broadcast their games.  Of the 20 teams in the league, 8 of them established new local agreements in accordance with the new national TV rights deal with ESPN, Fox Sports 1 and UniMas that all began this season. While the financial details weren’t disclosed, these new deals show a trend of increased production value of the broadcast and increased exposure of the teams in their surrounding regions.

As one example, the Real Salt Lake franchise plans to increase its footprint to 5.5 million homes across the surrounding region of Salt Lake City that includes Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada, Idaho, and parts of Arizona thanks to its new deal with Sinclair Broadcasting.  The team currently reaches all 1.6 million homes across Utah, but this new deal will make games available in high definition and hopefully boost TV ratings.

This kind of exposure shows huge improvements for the league’s image not just nationally but in local communities.  According to an article by Grantland, shortly after the Sporting Kansas City franchise re-branded, the team reported an average local TV rating of 1.1 in 2012 in a Kansas City market of just over 1,000,000 homes which equates to 10,000 viewers.  That same season, the New York Red Bulls, who boasted star power with players such as Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill, averaged a measly 0.3 rating on their local TV network, MSG, in a market where the broadcast was accessible to almost 8 million viewers, equating to about 30,000 viewers on average who watched the games on television.

The gold standard for MLS, as it has been in stadium attendance as well, appears to be the Seattle Sounders.  Around 2012, the team accrued a 2.5 rating for 5 games which adds up to almost 45,000 viewers per game.  For this current season, the team just announced a new TV deal that would air games on local Spanish language TV in addition to its already successful English language broadcasts.  The team’s games can be seen in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska, proving the extent of the team’s reach.

If more Major League Soccer teams can not only find successful exposure as the Seattle Sounders have done, but also generate television audiences that compare to other teams in their market, more lucrative local TV deals could follow, which would foster more sponsorship and advertising revenue for these franchises.  Time will tell if Major League Soccer’s age old TV dilemma can finally be solved.



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