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Major League Soccer increased viewership this season. Now it has to convince networks it’s worth $300 million per year

By Jabari Young

Major League Soccer increased viewership this season. Now it has to convince networks it’s worth $300 million per year

While other U.S. sports leagues battle another Covid outbreak, Major League Soccer ended its 2021 season with some good news as it attempts to convince TV networks they should pay $300 million a year to carry its games.

ESPN said this week the 2021 MLS Cup on ABC averaged 1.14 million viewers, peaking at 1.6 million viewers, delivering the fifth-most watched audience for an MLS Cup on a Disney-owned network since 1999. New York City FC beat the Portland Timbers in a penalty kick shootout (4-2) to win their first championship.

That’s up from the average 1.07 million viewers who watched the 2020 game on Fox Sports last year, and up 38% from an average of 825,000 viewers for the 2019 game.

The viewership report arrives at a good time for MLS as the league seeks a significant increase from networks. Industry sources suggest MLS is seeking $300 million per season – up from the roughly $90 million it brings in from ESPN, Fox Sports, and Univision combined.

But, the MLS rights package could be devalued due to key aspects of its offerings.

“They will do well,” said Lee Berke of LHB Sports, a sports media consultancy firm. “But there’s things that are working for them and things that will perhaps reduce their increase.”