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It Seems To Me. . .

With World Cup grabbing attention, MLS, U.S. Soccer announce landmark TV deal.

By Robert Wagman

(Monday, May 12, 2014) -- Somewhat lost today because of the announcement of a United States 30-man training roster, a preliminary before a final 23 is chosen for next month's World Cup in Brazil was the joint announcement by Major League Soccer, the United States Soccer Federation, ESPN, Fox Sports and Spanish-language Univision that is of profound importance to the American soccer public.

ESPN, Fox and Univision are entering into a huge rights and broadcast relationship to broadcast MLS and U.S men's and women's matches over the next eight seasons. The three broadcast networks will air about 125 MLS games each season.

ESPN and Fox Sports will show MLS Cup playoff matches beside two Univision playoff games. ESPN and Fox will alternate airing MLS Cup and the league's All-Star Game each year. The two will also share in a process yet to be determined all matches of the U.S. men and women.

Local broadcasters will still retain rights to air the rest of the MLS's games in their markets.

While no dollar amounts were given in a joint press conference held in New York, sources have told a number of media outlets, including Sports Business Daily that the deal is worth $90 million per year with ESPN and Fox paying a combined $75 million and Univision an estimated $15 million.

U.S. national-team broadcasts will be handled by Soccer United Marketing, MLS's soccer marketing arm. How much of the $90 million annually will end up in the USSF's bank account is unclear, but it should represent a great increase for MLS, which reportedly receives about $18 million per year from its current deals with NBC, ESPN and Univision.

What is envisioned is that Univision will broadcast a Friday night MLS match in Spanish to its cable subscribers. ESPN and Fox Sports will air a Sunday night doubleheader with ESPN carrying a 5 p.m. (ET), followed by a 7 p.m. game on Fox.

All three networks will broadcast Sunday night wrap-up shows. Planning is for the rest of the league to play its matches on Saturday night.

"This is the most comprehensive media rights partnership in the history of soccer in our country," said MLS commissioner Don Garber. "That's something we're very proud of. It's a statement about where the soccer market is and where Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer fit into the paradigm."

NBC will be left to build its coverage around the English Premier League. ESPN, which will be broadcasting its last men's World Cup in Brazil before Fox takes over. ESPN "will focus on the domestic aspects of the league (MLS) and the national team," said John Skipper, ESPN president.

ESPN and Fox are making a multi-million-dollar wager that MLS will be able to grow in popularity to outpace the interest of the U.S. public with European soccer. By one measure, this new contract will potentially give MLS the money to pass through to its clubs to be able to attract better talent and hopefully put a more attractive product on the field.

At this point, Garber is not ready to say this. When asked if this meant that MLS will raise its salary cap, Garber stressed that the league continues to lose money and that he assumes the salary cap will be a major part of a new collective bargaining agreement to be negotiated with the players' union next year.

A very major aspect of this new deal is it will solidify MLS's match schedule. In the past -- and currently -- the league has had nationally televised matches on Thursdays nights, Saturday nights and on Sundays, with some Tuesday and Wednesday nights thrown in. Now fans will know they can find two matches on Sundays and one on Friday night, albeit aired in Spanish.

Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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