Programming

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 6/03/2010 03:45:00 AM Eastern

Just as the World Cup is about to begin, Major
League Soccer may be kicking around the idea of a new television
partner -- or at least using the World Cup buzz to try to up its
leverage with a
current one.

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.

March