MLS is set to kickoff its 25th season this weekend, with a keen eye over the next decade towards growing revenue streams and raising the league’s status worldwide.
A certain bump in revenue will come from new media deals to be struck with broadcast partners in the coming months. MLS’s current eight-year agreement with FOX, ESPN, and Univision expires after the 2022 season, and is valued somewhere in the region of $90 million per year. Discussions with networks have already begun, Commissioner Don Garber said during MLS Media Day on Wednesday.
“I do believe that in the new streaming over the top of the world: media companies are going to need Major League Soccer and sports content more than they even have in the past,” Garber said. “Secondly, we have an audience that delivers something that most other properties don’t. It’s very young. It’s very diverse.”
More revenue from TV deals will satisfy both critics and supporters of MLS who are calling for the league to invest more in players and stadium infrastructure, Garber added.
MLS and the MLS Players Association recently agreed in principle to a new collective bargaining agreement that gives clubs access to more charter flights and raises minimum salaries for senior players to $109,200, among other upgrades. The previous veterans minimum was $81,375.
“We are entirely upside down compared to all the other leagues,” Garber said. “Media, as it relates to our revenues, is frankly the smallest piece of the puzzle. And I believe, undoubtedly, that it’ll change going forward.”
Like the other leagues, MLS clubs are afforded the opportunity to find their own media deals in local markets. LAFC, for example, reached a three-year streaming and shirt sponsorship deal valued at $18 million with YouTubeTV two years ago; it will also expire in 2022.
However, team executives around MLS like Larry Berg, LAFC’s lead managing owner, have been vocal about wanting more from the league’s next media contract.
“MLS is very much behind, certainly behind other sports in the U.S. and certainly behind other leagues around the world,” Berg said. “I think we now have far more teams than we used to. We now have far more passionate fans. We still have a ways to go on our ratings, but we’re growing and we’re doing better every year.”
LAFC entered MLS as an expansion franchise in 2018. MLS will welcome Nashville this season and also David Beckham’s Inter Miami, which is arriving after a seven-year journey marked by stadium location uncertainty. The club also faces a trademark battle with Italian club Inter Milan that may result in Inter Miami changing its name.
Four additional franchises in Austin, Charlotte, Sacramento, and St. Louis will begin playing by 2022, which will bring MLS’s number of franchises up to 30. The league will stop its expansion efforts there for the time being.
“We have continued issues with our scheduling and that’s a function of weather and a function of travel. So it’s conceivable that in time we might look at a larger league to be able to address some of those uh, challenges going forward,” Garber said. “But I want to be 100% clear, we have no plan in place to go past 30.”