Major League Soccer and Versus in Early Talks
MLS execs said to like Versus' treatment of NHL; MLS-Fox Soccer Channel deal up this year
By Ben Grossman -- Broadcasting & Cable, 6/3/2010 3:45:00 AM
Major League Soccer could be eyeing a move to Versus, as the two sides have begun very early discussions, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the meeting. Representatives from both sides have met once (though neither MLS Commissioner Don Garber nor Versus chief Jamie Davis were a part of the meeting), with another meeting tentatively planned to take place in the coming weeks.
MLS currently has deals on English-language television with ESPN and Fox Soccer Channel. The Fox deal is up at the end of the season (later this calendar year), and that is the arrangement that MLS could look to move to Versus as a possible outcome. MLS also has a deal for Spanish-language broadcasts with Univision.
While the talks are completely in their infancy and no deal is remotely on the table or has been discussed, MLS executives are said to be impressed with the way Versus has treated its coverage of the National Hockey League, which is a banner property for the cable sports network. Versus often talks of its ability to "super-serve" fans of the sport, and has seen a solid uptick in numbers since its deal to return to DirecTV and into this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But MLS execs may just be looking to fan the soccer flames and capitalize on the halo effect that the World Cup is sure to provide the sport. Drumming up talks with potential suitors is a typical strategy for a property heading into talks over a new deal -- and in this case, MLS would hope to push Fox Soccer Channel to give them stronger terms in a potential renewal.
Sources put Fox's current layout in the low-to-mid-seven-figure range per year for a package that includes MLS and other soccer games sold by MLS' prominent Soccer United Marketing.
Talks for a potential renewal could shed some light into Fox Sports Chairman David Hill's views on MLS as he looks to shape Fox Soccer Channel, which is now under his oversight.
And obviously the Comcast-owned Versus is very much under the microscope right now as the industry monitors the effects on the network of the pending Comcast-NBC Universal transaction.
Representatives from both MLS and Versus declined to comment on any past or future meetings.
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