With the window for MLS to hit commissioner Don Garber’s stated goal of finalizing a media rights deal by the end of March rapidly closing, multiple industry sources outlined to The Athletic this week details of the league’s ongoing negotiations for a new agreement that will begin in 2023. 

According to the sources, NBC, CBS and Fox have not shown much — if any — interest in the league’s rights. Fox has been one of the league’s broadcast partners in some form since 2003, but the network has scaled back its coverage since the onset of the pandemic and is still regularly having commentators call matches from its southern California studios instead of sending them to stadiums. NBC owns the American rights to the Premier League, but hasn’t expressed any real interest in linking up again with MLS, which it broadcasted from 2012-14. CBS is more of a newcomer to the soccer space and holds a variety of properties from around the world, including the UEFA Champions League, Italian Serie A and many CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, but also isn’t seen at this time as a serious player for MLS rights.

The sources said that Turner Sports, which agreed to a media rights deal with U.S. Soccer earlier this month and whose parent company, WarnerMedia, is on the verge of merging with Discovery, engaged in talks with MLS early in 2022. They said that Turner remains interested in MLS as both a linear and digital property, but that the network’s discussions with the league have effectively been put on pause as WarnerMedia works through the final stages of its merger. One indicated that it’s unlikely that Turner would be able to come to any agreement with MLS before that merger is finalized in mid- to late-April, weeks after the league’s preferred timeline to finish a broadcast deal. 

Turner Sports will air select U.S. men’s and women’s national team matches on TNT, TBS and HBO Max beginning next year, and continuing through 2030. As part of their merger, WarnerMedia and Discovery are also set to eventually combine HBO Max and Discovery+ into one streaming service. If the league strikes a deal with Turner, MLS could theoretically bring hundreds of games to that new, combined platform. 

The main linear broadcasters at the table are current MLS partners ESPN and Univision, the sources said, though neither appears to be interested in offering a paradigm-shifting deal for a league that has long struggled to attract strong viewership. 

ESPN, Fox and Univision pay a total of $90 million a year in the current broadcast agreement. That’s a paltry sum in the sports world, and MLS doesn’t even keep the entire total. A portion of the $90 million goes to U.S. Soccer, which contracted with MLS through its subsidiary, Soccer United Marketing, to sell its last round of media rights. U.S. Soccer made its new broadcast deal with Turner on its own.

The sources expect that ESPN will end up with a deal to carry a similar number of matches on its family of networks as it does in the current agreement. The company is set to broadcast 34 regular season matches across ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 this year.

Univision, multiple sources said, is keener on the new Leagues Cup tournament that will begin in 2023 than it is in airing MLS regular season or playoff contests, but it will likely end up with the primary Spanish-language rights to both. The new Leagues Cup will start next summer and will include every team from MLS and Liga MX, which performs significantly better than MLS on U.S. television. Both leagues are set to pause their regular season schedules for the duration of the tournament.