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Scott D. Pierce: MLS TV deal panics some RSL fans — unnecessarily

Published May 13, 2014 12:06 pm

Television • Team may end up with some Sunday home games, but not a lot of them.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

No sooner had Major League Soccer announced its biggest TV deal ever than some Real Salt Lake fans began to panic.

"Predictably, there's a segment of fans freaking out thinking that all of a sudden we're going to have a ton of Sunday home games," said Trey Fitz-Gerald, RSL's vice president of media and communications.

Under the terms of the eight-year, $720 million deal with ESPN, Fox and Univision that begins in 2015, MLS will be featured in a two-channel doubleheader on Sundays — 3 p.m. MT on ESPN2; 5 p.m. MT on Fox Sports 1 (or Fox Sports 2). Every team in Major League Soccer is guaranteed to appear at least once.

That, some contend, would alienate LDS fans. And some fans did call and threaten to cancel their season tickets. But it's way too early to panic.

For one thing, while there will be more national TV slots beginning next season, there will also be more teams to fill them — three more in the next two years and, presumably, more to come.

For another, despite RSL's success and the team's entertaining style of play, national broadcasters have been loath to put them on TV because Salt Lake is the league's smallest TV market.

"I imagine the bean counters [at ESPN, Fox and Univision] are still going to factor that in," said Fitz-Gerald.

RSL has seven national TV games, the most ever. Last year, it was three.

And if Salt Lake is selected for, say, seven Sunday games in 2015, history would indicate that four or five of those would be away games.

"The bottom line is — I don't expect our ratio of national TV games to change appreciably," Fitz-Gerald said. "As much as I would like to think that … we would be showcased more, at the end of the day we don't have enough eyeballs in our [TV market] to move anyone's needle."

Local fans should note that the new deal with ESPN, Fox and Univision/Unimas will bring in a reported $90 million a year — more than three times the $27 million MLS got under the old deal. And every time Real appears on national TV, it saves the team between $30,000 and $40,000 in production costs.

The team has players who don't make $40,000 a season.

This new deal gives MLS what it desperately wanted — regular, weekly time slots that it hopes will help the league's TV ratings grow. In addition to the Sunday-night doubleheaders, UniMas will carry regular Friday-night games, and Univision Deportes will have between five and seven Friday-night doubleheaders.

That, too, presents TV questions, however. At this point, RSL does not know if it will be able to simulcast those games on its English-language local broadcast partner.

Mind you, RSL is not against appearing on national TV. The franchise has long resented its lack of exposure given the fact that, over the past half decade, it's been one of the most successful teams in MLS.

But it's not going to volunteer for a slew of Sunday home games.

The current thinking is that RSL might end up with a couple of those a year at most. Which, granted, would be a departure for a team that has played a grand total of one in its 10-year existence —a playoff game against Portland last November that was mandated by ESPN.

It's worth noting that, with just 72 hours to sell tickets, 17,333 RSL fans turned out.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter: @ScottDPierce.






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