As evidenced by many individual announcements, there are clubs in the USL that have signed local TV deals ahead of the 2017 season. This, of course, helps the league gain exposure in those markets as the sport becomes increasingly popular in the United States. However, there is one problem.
The problem is the money involved. In order to broadcast these games, teams need the correct equipment to do so. According to an anonymous league source, the league is requiring all teams within the league to pay thousands of dollars in fees to a company that the league has chosen to loan the equipment for the broadcasts, disregarding that the clubs could find a much more affordable option on their own. It’s worth noting that last year’s “Game of the Week” broadcasts from ESPN 3 were done by each individual club, without the need for special equipment that the league is requesting.
This creates an issue, given that the company the league has chosen is charging thousands worth of fees for the use of their equipment to archive and transmit the broadcast, even though there are cheaper and possibly free options for the clubs to do themselves. The clubs that are being hit most by this development are the clubs that have stuck with the league to help build the game in this country, which are the clubs independent of MLS ownership. This fact has not gone unnoticed by the clubs, and has greatly disappointed the owners.
To add to this, it’s worth noting that decisions which effect the league in such wide range are usually voted on by owners and executives of the clubs. This includes conference alignment, expansion bids, TV deals and so on. The league informed the clubs of this decision without giving them the opportunity to respond with their questions and opinions on the situation. Several clubs have expressed their disappointment with how the situation has been handled, but their issues have fallen on deaf ears. During a recent online broadcast seminar, the league quickly shut down a Q&A session when several club representatives expressed concern over the league’s handling of the situation, with USL even going as far as to try and stifle communications between the clubs.
Given all of the information, all of this seems counter-intuitive to what the USL are looking to achieve. By making the clubs go through a third party to get equipment for their broadcasts, they’re making the clubs spend much more money than is necessary, when it may be cheaper for clubs to find equipment on their own. It also seems as if the league haven’t been very accommodating toward each club’s situation, given the fact that they aren’t allowing clubs to debate whether the deal is good for them specifically.
The situation raises questions going forward about the league, perhaps the biggest being whether the league is concerned about what’s best for its clubs and the growth of the game in the US, or rather more about their own profits.
It is unclear if the league will be reviewing this situation, but we’ll keep you informed on developments.