The Comcast-owned NBC Sports Group and Major League Soccer today announced a three-year deal for rights to MLS and U.S. national team games.
NBC Sports Group is taking over Fox Soccer Channel's contract as the secondary national broadcaster behind ESPN/ABC. There will be games on network television as well as Versus, which will be NBC Sports Network on January 2, 2012.
Comcast, as we all know, is based here in Philadelphia. NBC Sports Group is part of the NBC/Universal arm of the company, and is thus still based in New York. But I suspect that some of the shine from this deal will rub off on our region nonetheless.
Here are the details of the deal, according to the official press release:
Each season, NBC will broadcast two regular-season MLS games, two playoff games and two appearances by the US men's national team, marking the first time four MLS matches will be broadcast on English-language network television since 2002.
The NBC Sports Network will televise 38 regular-season games, three playoff games and two US men's national team matches. All telecasts on NBC and NBC Sports Network will consist of pregame and postgame coverage. According to the agreement, the NBC Sports Group obtains digital rights across all platforms and devices for the games it televises.
The rights fee was not disclosed, but the Sports Business Journal's John Ourand reports that it is $10 million a year. The Los Angeles Times' Joe Flint reports that it is $12 million a year. Either way, that's serious money.
MLS and the U.S. national team will lose the opportunity for cross-promotion on Fox's English Premier League and Champions League broadcasts, but it will gain much more in return.
To me, the biggest part of the deal is having regular season games and non-World Cup U.S. national team games on network television for the first time in a long time.
According to NBC Sports Group president of programming Jon Miller, the U.S. national team games in this deal are friendlies, not World Cup qualifiers. But I have just a hunch that those friendlies will be against opponents of consequence.
A lot of soccer fans have been vocal in recent years about wanting to get games on NBC and Versus, because of the resources those networks have given to the National Hockey League.
I've always been amused by that, given how badly hockey fans want the NHL back on ESPN because of what they perceive as an anti-hockey bias on programs such as SportsCenter. But it seems that this deal will give soccer fans the best of both worlds.
The deal will proabably also give NBC an incentive to boost the production quality of its soccer telecasts at next summer's Olympics. Although NBC's broadcasts don't have in-game commercials anymore, they did as recently as 2000.
Who else wins from this? The many teams across MLS that have existing deals with their local Comcast SportsNet and/or NBC affiliates. Such clubs include the Union, D.C. United, New England Revolution, Chicago Fire, Seattle Sounders and San Jose Earthquakes.
I would not be surprised if some of the broadcasters who work those teams' local broadcasts end up in the NBC booth. Names to keep an eye on include Union play-by-play announcer J.P. Dellacamera, Seattle play-by-play announcer Arlo White and D.C. United color analyst Thomas Rongen, the former coach of the U.S. Under-20 national team.
If I were an oddsmaker, I'd install Dellcamera as the favorite to be NBC's lead voice. He already has a relationship with the company, having called soccer games at the last few Olympics.
UPDATE: There was a press conference at Lincoln Financial Field this evening with Miller, Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber, and U.S. Soccer Federation CEO Dan Flynn. You can listen to it in the audio player below.