Major League Soccer announced on Wednesday that it has partnered with British sports broadcaster Sky Sports to televise league matches live in the United Kingdom, marking the first time Sky Sports will own MLS broadcast rights. The four-year multimedia deal begins with the kickoff of MLS’s landmark 20th season.
As part of the new agreement, Sky Sports will broadcast at least two MLS regular-season matches each week, as well as the AT&T MLS All-Star Game, every MLS Cup Playoff game, and the MLS Cup final. The matches will appear across Sky's family of networks.
The UK-based broadcaster will also carry weekly MLS highlights across various platforms, including Sky Sports News and SkySports.com.
Sky Sports will also broadcast at least one match from MLS's new "Decision Day" – the recently announced format change for the final day of the MLS regular season, during which all Eastern Conference games will be played simultaneously at 5 pm ET (9 pm UK time) followed by all Western Conference games at 7 pm ET (11 pm UK time). Many of the matches are expected to determine the final spots for the MLS Cup Playoffs.
“As MLS continues to grow into a global brand, we are excited to partner with Sky Sports, a leader in the UK TV market, to bring the sport to millions of soccer fans,” said Gary Stevenson, president and managing director, MLS Business Ventures, in a statement. “2015 is a milestone year for MLS including new stars, new clubs and a new brand. Sky Sports will help continue to grow the League and clubs worldwide.”
“Football in the US and Canada has enormous potential for growth and we can’t wait to bring this competition to our viewers for the first time,” said Sky Sports Managing Director Barney Francis. “Thierry Henry has joined us [as an on-air pundit]. He created fantastic memories in MLS, and we look forward to seeing more of those great stories from across the Atlantic.”
Henry played for the New York Red Bulls for nearly five seasons before retiring from the game after the 2014 season.
“I saw the passion of the fans in the US and Canada," he said in a statement. "They have always had it for other sports but they also have it for football now and it’s going to be huge in years to come. Sky Sports is the best place for the game, to bring it closer to fans in the UK and build MLS even more.”
Henry is just one of several Sky ambassadors. Another is David Beckham, the retired two-time MLS Cup champion with the LA Galaxy who is currently spearheading an MLS expansion bid in Miami. He sees the new deal with Sky Sports as another step in the evolution of MLS.
"This is another important moment that shows the continued growth of MLS," he said in a statement. "I have seen first-hand how popular soccer has become in America. Having fantastic partners such as Sky Sports on board will not only add to the coverage of the game, it will also broaden its appeal outside of the US."
The deal was negotiated with MLS’ new global media rights agent, IMG, as part of a continued focus to bring MLS to more fans around the world and grow the relevance of the league.