The leagues involved may not be part of the ‘Big Four,’ but Wednesday’s IndyCar and Major League Soccer television deals appear to hint at a growing rivalry between ESPN/ABC and challenger NBC Sports Group.
NBC Sports Group has been aggressive in battling ESPN this year, outbidding the network for the NHL and Olympics. However, those two deals were essentially NBC on the defensive, trying to protect properties to which it already owned rights.
The NBC-MLS deal announced Wednesday is NBC encroaching on ESPN’s property. While ESPN will continue to own rights to MLS matches, including the MLS Cup, NBC is in much better position to snatch those rights away when the MLS television deals expire in 2014.
Of note, Sports Business Daily reports that the MLS would likely shop around just one English-language package in 2014, meaning either ESPN or NBC — not both — would hold onto the league.
The MLS deal was a surprise. It would have been far less surprising had NBC picked up rights to the Indianapolis 500, considering that NBC Sports Network (currently Versus) already has a relationship with IndyCar.
With that possibly in mind, ESPN/ABC announced a six-year contract extension with IndyCar on Wednesday, keeping the Indianapolis 500 and four other races on ABC through 2018. The current IndyCar-ABC deal, signed in 2008, is for just four years and ends in 2012.
With NBC now in the picture and perhaps a legitimate contender for rights, it makes sense that ESPN is willing to commit to more years of IndyCar now than in 2008.
Though IndyCar and MLS are not the highest-profile outfits, the deals made today appear to be the latest in an ongoing chess match between two sports media giants.
(Some information from Sports Business Daily)