NEW YORK — TV broadcasts of soccer games still haven’t caught on with the American public, but ABC and ESPN have signed an exclusive five-year deal with Major League Soccer (MLS) that will cover all of the matches of the next two men’s World Cup tournaments and the next women’s World Cup.
The World Cup deal represents an addition to the contract signed last October that will funnel at least three soccer matches to ABC, including the MLS Cup and the MLS All-Star Game. And ESPN2 has agreed to cablecast a minimum of 26 regular-season soccer matches on Saturday afternoons each year.
“It’s a good deal for Major League Soccer because it ties in the regular-season network games with the World Cup matches,” said Neal Pilson, a sports media consultant and former president of CBS Sports.
Pilson also cites the marketing power of Disney/ABC across all of its platforms, not only ABC, ESPN and ESPN2, but ESPN News, ESPN Classic, its radio network, magazine and Web site.
ESPN and MLS declined to discuss financial details, but one source said ESPN and ABC won’t have to pay any cash license fees. Instead, MLS will pay for the time on ABC and collect the revenues from the sale of 30-second spots. MLS could buy ABC’s time for between $225,000 and $250,000 an hour, according to a Madison Avenue source.
The 2002 men’s quadrennial World Cup takes place in Japan and Korea and the 2006 World Cup will go to Germany. The 2003 women’s World Cup will end up in China.
There’ll be no commercial interruptions during the World Cup telecasts, but one source said film spots for advertiser products may show up in a corner of the screen while play is going on.