MLR, EPL, and the Importance of Broadcast Deals

Nice screen ya got here! Every watch rugby on it?

Major League Rugby is expected to announce new broadcast deals before the end of the year. With the original deals wrapped at the end of the 2021 season, it’s worth thinking about the value of broadcast deals.

Last week, the English Premier League signed a new six year exclusive rights deal with NBC Universal. This is the third consecutive deal between the EPL and NBC. A high level look at the three deals is in the chart below.

Years# of YearsTotal Deal ValueAverage Annual ValueAverage Value/Team
2012/13 – 2014/153$250,000,000$83,333,333$4,166,667
2015/16 – 2021/226$1,100,000,000$183,333,333$9,166,667
2022/23 – 2028/296$2,700,000,000$450,000,000$22,500,000
English Premier League/NBC Universal American broadcast deal vales. Data from Associated Press

(Note: The EPL distributes broadcast earnings based on the prior year’s standings. You can read all about that here.)

It doesn’t take a genius to see the growth in broadcast revenue going into the Premier League over the last decade. Most MLR sides would beg for that level of revenue, and that’s only the American distribution rights. The EPL is watched around the globe, and it also doesn’t include any game day revenue or merchandise sales either.

The new MLR broadcast deal(s) will be pivotal to the growth of this league. The league initially signed a three year pact with CBS Sports that would allow a national game would air weekly on CBS Sports Network along with playoff games. CBS would later elevate the Championship Final to the main, over-the-air CBS channel. Fox Sports initially joined in 2020 with an additional weekly game to air on FS2. The linear broadcasting was paired with ESPN+ to provide distribution for games that wouldn’t make it to national airing. Each team was left to negotiate local deals. Some secured deals with regional sports networks, while others worked with local affiliate stations, and more than a few games simply used Facebook live. Needless to say, it was jumbled mess, but an upstart league needs to get what it can.

The current MLR faces a different landscape.

Understand that every bit of that old broadcast set up saw cash flow going to the broadcaster from the league for the space. The league would pay to produce the broadcast, then pay networks/streamers to distribute that content. The main goal for the league needs to be reducing broadcast expense, most likely through lesser costs for air space. Theoretically, a broadcaster could take on the cost of production, but it seems premature that a network would look to develop a rugby production unit. The best case scenario is probably the league getting free air space with no cash going either way, potentially with a kicker contingent on ad revenue.

Streaming is a different animal. The Rugby Network has found 48,000 subscribers. With that, the need for a a separate streaming partner is ended. Unlike paying a third party for a streaming space, the league can take in advertising revenue. Plus, those broadcasts can be used for local distributions, which are higher quality than the old local productions and consolidate costs that were once split between teams and the league.

My expectation: a three year package split between multiple networks that sees playoff matches moved to free to air. I look forward to seeing just how wrong I am.

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