Jonathan Kraft praises new MLS TV deal

Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer signed eight-year television and media rights deals with ESPN, FOX and Univision on Monday.

Shortly after the deals were announced, New England Revolution owner Jonathan Kraft spoke about the magnitude of Monday’s developments.

“Our family has been involved in MLS since before the league was playing games,” said Kraft, “and with that perspective, I believe this new broadcast deal represents one of the most significant milestones -- if not the most significant -- in the league’s history.”

The agreements commence in 2015, and will run through 2022. The deals will allow the league and federation -- the two biggest soccer entities in the United States -- to expand its media footprint, as each of the three networks will feature an exclusive MLS Match of the Week, providing soccer fans throughout the country with a destination day and time for each network.

Among the highlights of the new deals: ESPN will carry a minimum of 34 MLS regular season matches on an exclusive basis on Sundays at 5pm ET, primarily on ESPN 2. Additionally, the network will share broadcast rights with FOX and Univision to broadcast MLS playoff matches, with ESPN and FOX providing coverage of the MLS Cup final during alternating years.

ESPN will also feature more than 200 out-of-market matches per year on ESPN3 and WatchESPN, available to fans who receive their video or Internet subscription from an affiliated provider.

The MLS out-of-market package will also be available via over-the-top services such as Google Play, iTunes Apple TV, Roku and others.

Additionally, ESPN and FOX will share coverage of the U.S. Soccer, with broadcasts of international friendlies and World Cup qualifiers to be featured on both outlets.

“ESPN remains firmly committed to world-class soccer and this agreement underscores our belief that this is an ascendant sports property,” said ESPN President John Skipper in a statement on Monday. “We are proud to continue our longstanding relationship with MLS and U.S. Soccer, and the broad media rights we have acquired, including enhanced digital rights, will benefit all our platforms.”

ESPN has been a media partner of MLS since the league’s inception in 1996, and its new deal will extend that partnership to at least 27 years. Fox Sports returns to MLS after previously broadcasting the league’s games from 2003 to 2011. Univision’s new agreement with MLS will extend the relationship between the nation’s top Spanish-language network and the league to 20 seasons.

“Our business has grown exponentially in the last decade and this long-term agreement with ESPN, Fox and Univision, all preeminent sports broadcasters, punctuates this growth and success,” Kraft said. “This deal creates a consistent schedule and appointment viewing for our fans around the country and moves MLS into the top echelon of North American sports media properties.”

Kraft also spoke to the efforts of MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who has overseen the league grow from 12 franchises when he took office in 1999 to 22 with New York City FC (2015) Orlando City FC (2015) and Atlanta (2017) entering the league in coming years.

“Commissioner Garber and his team deserve a tremendous amount of credit for crafting this structure with our broadcast partners and bringing it to fruition,” Kraft said.