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Analyzing the Atlanta United broadcast deal

The broadcast agreement is amazing, but how amazing is it?

Atlanta United announced a major television deal with Fox Sports South and Fox Sports Southeast today. The deal will cover six states and reach 10 million viewers. Broadcasts will include pre and postgame analysis as well as a weekly TV show.

The team has already built a massive fan base with 27,000 season ticket holders and 40,000 tickets sold for the opening game on March 5. While it may seem that just under two weeks before the inaugural season begins is short notice to announce a broadcast partnership, waiting until as many season tickets as possible were sold shows the potential viewership for the team and ensured that Atlanta United got the best deal possible.

10 million households seems like a lot and the geographical area covering six states will broadcast the five stripes far and wide, but how does the deal compare with other local MLS TV agreements?

How Atlanta Stacks Up

While Atlanta United may be the Kings of the South, the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC are broadcast nationally in Canada for every one of their games on Canada’s biggest sports network TSN. For their part, the Montreal Impact are carried by TVA Sports in a deal that features a weekly show focusing on the team.

In terms of revenue, the LA Galaxy have the highest paying TV deal after signing a 10 year, $55 million TV deal with Time Warner Regional Sports, which has since re-branded as Spectrum SN, in 2011. The coverage that LA receives is robust. The games are shown in English on Spectrum SN and in Spanish on SpectrumD and feature pre and postgame shows. Additional coverage includes documentaries about the team and re-broadcasts of classic matches.

The Galaxy’s West Coast compatriots, the Portland Timbers and and Seattle Sounders are both carried by Root Sports Northwest. The coverage for the teams is the largest in terms of geography for any US based MLS team covering Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska. Locally, both teams are broadcast by networks in their respective cities and each has a partnership with a Spanish language network. Neither team has a televised pre or postgame show.

On the other side of the country, the Philadelphia Union are broadcast by Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia and the local ABC affiliate. This season, Comcast will show 20 games while the ABC station broadcasts four games with the rest carried nationally by ESPN or FoxSports 1. The games on CSN Philadelphia reach nearly 3 million viewers in the Philadelphia area, Southern New Jersey, and Delaware. The team does not have pre or postgame coverage or a radio broadcaster.

A little up I-95 in Northern New Jersey, the NY Red Bulls have been aired by MSG Networks since the team was founded as the MetroStars in 1996. MSG Networks also carries a pre and postgame show every gameday and provides Spanish language commentary with SAP.

The Red Bulls’ Bronx neighbors New York City FC are carried by the YES Network which includes a Spanish broadcast in SAP. The YES coverage area encompasses all of New York and Connecticut with parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Further south, Orlando City SC is broadcast by local TV station WRDQ TV 27. The deal with the network includes a pre and postgame show with halftime analysis. In addition, there is a weekly feature series on the team called Orlando City Insider shown on WRDQ and its partner WFTV 9 which is Orlando’s ABC affiliate. The network reaches viewers in Central Florida, including Orlando, Daytona Beach, and Melbourne.

Finance Figures Shrouded in Mystery

While this list is not complete, it gives a valuable comparison for how Atlanta’s broadcast agreement measures up with the rest of the league. It also isn’t clear the financial terms of the deal since neither Fox nor Atlanta United disclosed them.

These figures may never be made public and Atlanta United would be in good company among MLS teams that do not discuss television broadcast figures. Last year Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated ranked every team by ambition and included a question asking, “How many of your games this season are shown on local television? How much is your local TV deal worth per season?” Responses varied from teams stating that they do not discuss the terms of the television broadcast agreements to others that do not receive a rights fee, like Orlando and Houston.

Wahl’s piece also brings up another interesting piece of the Atlanta broadcast picture. Every team last year except for the Philadelphia Union aired their games on the radio or through an online platform. While United has not announced plans for a radio partnership, online or offline, as of yet, it would be surprising for the team not to join the vast majority of the league in doing so.