The Union's television broadcast deal with Comcast concluded at the end of the 2017 season. The team didn't waste much time in securing a new deal — and a very different one.
Starting in 2018, all of the team's games will be televised on over-the-air broadcast channels. PHL17 will carry most of the games, with some others on longtime partner 6ABC. The exact number of games on each channels will be set when MLS unveils the full 2018 schedule in January.
"This is something that we've been working on for some time," chief business officer Tim McDermott told the Inquirer and Daily News. "This is a great opportunity for us to expand our reach."
From 2011 through this year, games were split between 6ABC and the channels now known as NBC Sports Philadelphia and NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus. A Comcast crew produced all of those broadcasts. Under the new arrangement, 6ABC will run the production crew.
"Our relationship with Comcast is still phenomenal," McDermott said. "I wouldn't discount the chance that we continue to partner with them this year or beyond. … We're looking to continue to work with them."
That said, McDermott emphasized the benefit of bringing Union games to subscribers of cable and satellite TV providers that don't carry Comcast's sports channels, as well as cord-cutters.
Popular broadcasters JP Dellacamera and Tommy Smyth will remain the on-air talent. McDermott said he expects pregame host Dave Leno and sideline reporter Marisa Pilla to remain part of the broadcasts as well.
McDermott declined to give details about financial matters, including whether the team will earn a rights fee. He also declined to say whether Comcast was paying a rights fee previously.
Union games have aired on 6ABC since the team's inaugural season in 2010, when games were split between its main channel and its secondary digital channel. Station president and general manager Bernie Prazenica is a big soccer fan.
"As a founding partner with the Union, we're delighted to play a part in the evolution of its media expansion within the Philadelphia television market," Prazenica said in a statement.
PHL17 is a new partner for the Union, but it has a long history of televising sports, especially baseball.
"I've always admired what PHL17 did with the Phillies," McDermott said. "I'm excited that they'll be able to do the same thing for us."
He noted that the Union will look to build a network of affiliates that can cover all of the territory that NBC Sports Philadelphia reaches. As it stands, the new arrangement will reach north to the Lehigh Valley and south to parts of Delaware, and to areas west of Philadelphia that receive PHL17. But Harrisburg has its own own ABC affiliate. McDermott said the team is working on an affiliate network to fix that problem.
The Union also hope to launch Spanish-language broadcasts, though they haven't gotten too far with those plans yet.