Despite the hopes of many that Major League Soccer could find another national partner to compliment its deal with the ESPN Networks, word is coming out this afternoon that MLS and Fox Soccer Channel have agreed to a one-year contract extension for FSC to remain as part of MLS's national television strategy. As part of the deal, FSC receives exclusive English rights to thirty-one regular season matches, and will broadcast three playoff matches, including a Conference Final.
The league had begun discussions with Versus regarding the Comcast-owned cable network lauded for its continually-expanding NHL coverage picking up the second tier package, but with such little being said about any competition between Versus and FSC after the League's initial talks, it's probably fair to assume negotiations didn't go very far before the League and Versus decided it wasn't the right fit, at least for this year. With Versus already undergoing a shakeup following its placement under NBCUniversal control, it's unlikely that Versus and the League would have had time to properly prepare a brand new national broadcast structure with hiring announcers and studio personalities, hiring producers and executives, and purchasing or leasing equipment for telecasts in cities Versus' crews have never been to in their NHL coverage this close to the beginning of the season. After the end of the season, though, and once the dust has started to settle at Versus and NBCUniversal, perhaps both sides will be ready to sit down again and further formalize talks for 2012 coverage.
With Fox Soccer Channel still not being widely distributed in high-definition, particularly not on Comcast, which dominates Delaware Valley homes and businesses unlike any other area for obvious reasons, this isn't really the outcome many of us were hoping for — especially given the poor quality of FSC telecasts — but there's always next season. In conjunction with this announcement, and the recent announcement of TSN as a national broadcast partner in Canada, changes to the scheduling of seven matches have been announced, listed after the jump.
Friday, May 6 – Philadelphia Union at Portland Timbers (FSC) 10:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 28 – Philadelphia Union at Toronto FC (TSN) 12:30 p.m.
Saturday, June 18 – Philadelphia Union at Vancouver Whitecaps FC (TSN) 10:00 p.m.
Saturday, July 2 – Philadelphia Union at D.C. United (FSC) 7:00 p.m.
Friday, July 29 – Philadelphia Union vs. Colorado Rapids (FSC) 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 23 – Philadelphia Union at Sporting Kansas City (FSC) 8:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 15 – Philadelphia Union vs. Toronto FC (TSN) 4:00 p.m.
Two things about this: one, 12:30 is a rather early match time for May 28 at Toronto, and two, since those TSN broadcasts are only national in Canada, the Union are able to, and will have, a regional broadcast on 6abc/Live Well HD Network.