D.C. United’s long-standing relationship with Comcast SportsNet to show MLS matches is continuing this season, but the agreement between the club and the regional sports outlet has changed.
United is no longer collecting a rights fee from Comcast and the sides are sharing production costs, TV industry and soccer sources told the Insider.
In 2007, Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, CSN’s local competitor, challenged Comcast for the rights, providing the club with leverage in negotiations. Ultimately, United and CSN entered into a four-year contract that included an undisclosed rights fee.
When the deal expired and no other serious bidders emerged, United and Comcast agreed to continue working together but under a new financial arrangement.
United officials declined to discuss specifics of the new contract. One source familiar with the deal said many MLS teams with a local TV contract pay for the entire production and airtime, so in a sense, “United made out better than could be expected.”
Comcast will show 17 of the 34 regular season matches this season, including 15 of the final 25. In that stretch, four others will be carried by Fox Soccer Channel or ESPN2. However, the two home matches this week — against the Seattle Sounders tonight and FC Dallas on Saturday — are available only through the MLS pay package, Direct Kick, and the online service, MatchDay Live.
“We have a great long-term relationship with CSN and together we’ve worked through a variety of obstacles to provide fans as many games as possible,” United spokesman Doug Hicks said.
Potential conflicts with Washington Capitals playoff games this spring and Washington Redskins preseason games in the fall impacted the TV schedule.
Comcast spokesman Brian Potter said the company doesn’t comment on contracts and partnerships.
Asked about the number of games not shown on any outlet, United President Kevin Payne said: “Our philosophy has always been that the best advertisement for our product is our product, so we want to have as many games on as possible, but we can’t always get every game on. Certainly next year we hope to have more games on. It’s the way it worked it out this time.”
Finanical issues also came into play. Announcers Dave Johnson and Thomas Rongen no longer travel to away matches and, instead, call the games from Comcast’s studio in Bethesda, Md. The money saved on those expenses and additional production costs were applied toward maximizing the number of games to be shown. The announcers are on site for home matches.
United discontinued radio broadcasts two years ago and ended online audio after last season. Airtime was too expensive, given the number of listeners, and Internet coverage conflicted with the MLS video business.