D.C. United has entered into a multiyear partnership with Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns ABC affiliate Channel 7 and NewsChannel 8. The deal ends United’s relationship with Comcast SportsNet, which, along with its predecessor, Home Team Sports, showed the MLS team’s matches for all but one of 20 seasons.
Sinclair will carry every United match that is not part of the league’s national package (ESPN, Fox Sports, UniMas). However, because of ABC7’s network commitments, many games will appear on NewsChannel 8, a cable outlet that does not have the reach of the mothership — or of CSN, for that matter — in the mid-Atlantic region.
United and Sinclair will begin to make channel designations after the 34-game schedule is released next month.
“Sinclair offered us a deal we simply couldn’t turn down,” United spokeswoman Lindsay Simpson said, citing Sinclair’s commitment to show every non-national TV match and NewsChannel 8’s place on basic cable. (CSN is a premium channel on many systems.)
“Comcast SportsNet has been a great friend and partner,” she said, “but this was such a great deal.”
While Channel 7 is readily available outside the immediate Washington area, NewsChannel 8 is not. To satisfy fans in places such as Baltimore and Richmond, markets served by CSN, Sinclair would need MLS’s approval to show matches on alternative channels.
Sinclair owns WBFF-45, WNUV-40 and WUTB-41 in Baltimore, WRLH-35 in Richmond and WTVZ-33 in Norfolk. It also owns American Sports Network, whose programming appears on local outlets.
Terms between United and Sinclair were not disclosed. Sinclair is not paying a rights’ fee; rather, the sides have entered into a partnership and will share costs. The sides will also partner on match production. United will oversee sales.
The broader agreement between the sides was first reported by TheBigLead.
As part of the deal, United has the option of a weekly show. United will also have final say on match announcers. Dave Johnson has been the play-by-play voice since the 1996 inaugural season. Former player Santino Quaranta is the primary color commentator. In recent years, Johnson and Quaranta have had to call away matches off monitors in CSN’s studio in Bethesda. It’s unclear if, under the Sinclair deal, the announcing team will resume traveling with the team and which side would pay for it.
United officials did not want to comment on any issues they might have had with CSN, but multiple sources close to the situation said the team had become increasingly frustrated with CSN’s scheduling conflicts, particularly late in the MLS season when CSN prioritized the Washington Capitals and Wizards. CSN also carries college football in the fall.
Over the years, overlapping starting times with the Capitals and Wizards — in both the spring and fall — would often relegate United games to CSN+ or leave it without any local coverage. This year, though, CSN committed to showing every local-market match on one of its platforms. It ran into one conflict, in August, with an NFL preseason game.
Aside from losing CSN’s reach, United will have to shift fans’ viewing habits away from the region’s top outlet for sports programming and to a lesser-known cable platform (NC8). CSN is available in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, plus parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware and North Carolina.