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Deal with NBC could be just the profile boost MLS is looking for

If you are a fan of Major League Soccer, today is a very good day for you.

On Wednesday, MLS and NBC Sports announced a three-year media rights agreement that moves the top American pro soccer league from the Fox Soccer Channel onto NBC and its cable properties. NBC and the NBC Sports Network, the newly named cable channel that will be re-branded from VERSUS on Jan. 2, 2012, will air a total of 49 games each season, including 45 MLS games and four involving the U.S. Men's National Team. The deal commences at the start of the 2012 MLS season.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the Los Angeles Times, citing a person familiar with the deal, put the price tag at $12 million a year for three years. The Sports Business Daily tagged the deal at $10 million per year.

While the Fox Soccer Channel had carried MLS since 2003, the network's primary focus has always been on its heavy inventory of international soccer, particularly the English Premier League. That focus clearly irked MLS officials. One of the attractions of a move to NBC is the number of homes the network's properties can offer: VERSUS is in 76 million homes while Fox Soccer Channel is around 40 million.

Fox Soccer executive vice president and general manager David Nathanson told SBD today that "although we're disappointed MLS chose to go in a different direction, we wish them well while Fox Soccer continues to support the sport's growth in the U.S. through our in-depth coverage showcasing the most revered leagues, teams, players and competitions from around the globe."

ESPN still holds the rights to MLS games in a separate deal through 2014, and its deal includes the MLS Cup.

The specific breakdown for the NBC/MLS deal is as follows: NBC will broadcast two regular-season MLS games, two playoff games and two U.S. men's national team games. The NBC Sports Network (formally VERSUS) will televise 38 regular-season games, three playoff games and two U.S. men's national team games. All telecasts on NBC and NBC Sports Network will have pregame and postgame coverage. An NBC spokesman told SI.com that no announcers have been named for the new package and that such an announcement is likely months away.

Worth noting is the NBC Sports Group also obtained digital rights across all platforms and devices for the games it televises. "MLS is a perfect fit for our new group, and we are uniquely positioned to help grow soccer in the United States with extensive coverage on NBC Sports Network, significant programming on the broadcast network and our growing digital platforms," said NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus in a statement.

In a phone interview with The New York Times, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said, "This three-year deal allows us to align all our TV relationships to end concurrently at the end of '14 season and provides us with a potential opportunity to have more exclusive relationship with a broadcaster. Way to early to say what plans will be three years from now."

The NBC, ESPN and Univision media deals with MLS all end in 2014, a year highlighted by the World Cup in Brazil.

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