MLS Lands Three-Year Broadcast Deal with NBC

This is shaping up to be a massive news day, and the BP World HQ are all a-scramble. In addition to the news out of Montreal and from England, the Jurgen Klinsmann Era gets under way tonight, there is movement on the Freddy Adu front (more on that later), and there’s this: Major League Soccer and NBC Sports announced a three-year contract, starting with the 2012 MLS season, to broadcast MLS games on NBC and NBC Sports Network.

(The NBC Sports Network is Versus, re-branded, so if you have Versus, you have NBCSN).

The deal will put 45 MLS games and four U.S. men’s national team matches on NBC and NBC Sports Network each season. (ESPN will continue to broadcast its MLS Game of the Week until 2014.)

Here’s the commish:

“Our new partnership with the NBC Sports Group is a significant step forward for Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer. The NBC Sports Group is world-renowned for its award-winning coverage, superb broadcast quality, and promotional expertise. We are excited to be part of NBC’s ambitious plans for soccer, and look forward to reaching a considerable audience on multiple platforms.”

For more on this, see here and here.

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“Soccer Night in America” to Debut Friday

Fox Soccer will unveil its upgraded, HD coverage of Major League Soccer this Friday, when it broadcasts the Portland Timbers versus the Philadelphia Union live from Portland’s JELD-WEN Field (10:30, EST).

The new telecast’s name is lifted from “Hockey Night in Canada” (just as ABC/ ESPN borrowed it for U.S. baseball telecasts), but we’re just gonna let that slide.

The program will feature state-of-the-art graphics, a redesigned set and slow-motion camera technology. The new graphics, according to the MLS site, “incorporates Vizrt technology, which provides digital, real-time 3D and virtual graphic displays, and super slow-motion cameras in match telecasts.”

They definitely picked an excellent venue for the new program’s opener, as the atmosphere at JELD-WEN is second to none, anywhere in the world. But we’re not sure about the Timbers’ opponent for the night. The Union are one of the better teams in the league this season, results-wise, but they play a grind-it-out, defensive style that tends to produce 1–0 and 0–0, ratings-killing games.

But who knows, maybe Sebastien Le Toux’s first goal of the season last week will open the floodgates for him and spark the Union ‘O’ in general, and we’ll get a goalfest for the SNIA debut.

Read more about it here, and here.

2011 MLS Schedule Highlights

Major League Soccer released its 2011 schedule yesterday, a scant four weeks before the season kicks off. (They still haven’t finalized the new playoff format, other than saying there will be 10 teams involved, two more than in previous years)

Here are a few factoids about the new schedule, followed by the juiciest early-season dates on the calendar:

• The ESPN family of networks will televise 21 games, with an additional eight “windows” to broadcast international matches involving MLS clubs.

Galavision and TeleFutura will broadcast 30 MLS games, plus the All-Star Game on July 27.

• Of those 51 nationally-televised matches, the Columbus Crew will appear in … zero. Red Bull New York, by contrast, will be on coast-to-coast TV 13 times.

• The league is in negotiations to renew its contract with Fox Soccer Channel, which expired after the 2010 season. Look for an announcement on that—and additional games on TV—soon.

Sporting Kansas City will open the season with 10—count ’em—10 consecutive road games while construction crews apply the final bolts to their brand new stadium, scheduled to open in June.

Said KC coach Peter Vermes: “No matter how you put the schedule together, you’ve got to play 17 at home and 17 on the road. So I don’t think this schedule is anything special.”

Well sure, but if you get shredded on the road in the first 10 games, you could find yourself in a season-killing hole.

• The expansion Portland Timbers will play their first three games away from home while PGE Park undergoes renovations.

• Portland’s fellow newbies Vancouver Whitecaps FC will play their games at the temporary, 27,000-seat Empire Field until the $563-million [!] renovation of B.C. Place is complete in the fall. (They’re putting in a retractable roof.) They’ll play their final three regular-season games at 54,000-seat B.C. Place, starting with a match against Cascadia Cup rivals Portland on Oct. 2.

Real Salt Lake requested and received a home-heavy schedule in the early going to boost its quest to win the CONCACAF Champions League. As a result RSL will play at Rio Tinto only four times after Aug. 1, with nine road games in that stretch, including four in a row at one point.

Mark Your Calendar:

March 15

Season opener featuring Los Angeles’s Landon Donovan, Juan Pablo Angel, and—we assume—David Beckham taking on Seattle Sounders FC at crazed Qwest Field. Here’s LA coach Bruce Arena on the Tuesday-night game, which kicks off two weeks earlier than last year’s opener: “We can predict cold weather, rain, and [artificial] turf. We need to be ready.”

March 19

Game Canada! Highlighting the league-wide opening weekend is the the Saturday-night matchup between expansion Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Toronto FC. This game echoes history (both cities had NASL clubs) as it opens a new era and kick-starts the battle for North of the Border bragging rights.

Assuming he signs next week, we could also see the MLS debut of Charlie Davies on this day, as D.C. United hosts Columbus.

March 26

Bonanza The busiest day in league history as nine games will put all 18 teams in action. Won’t happen again in 2011.

April 19

Timber! The home opener for the expansion Portland Timbers. They’ll christen (re-christen, technically) PGE Park with a game against the Chicago Fire. Expect a Qwest Field–like atmosphere as Portland has already sold more than 11,000 season tickets.

May 7

Angel’s Revenge? Former Red Bull striker Juan Pablo Angel has been the embodiment of class regarding his departure from New York, but as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, he’s got to feel a little ill-treated with the way things went down. Look for that to show in his play when the Red Bulls come to Los Angeles.

June 9

Kansas City, Kansas As opposed to Missouri—that is. Sporting KC’s stadium plans floated back and forth across the Kansas–Missouri border during the past few years, finally settling on the Western side. They’ll welcome the Chicago Fire for the first game in their new home.

MLS Playoff Pairings Set

Major League Soccer dropped the curtain on its regular season last night, but not before delivering a final scene worthy of Harold Pinter. There were stunning reversals, two hat tricks, a midfielder playing goalkeeper and the playoff picture hung in the balance until the very last game, last night at the Home Depot Center.

Below is the first-round, first-leg schedule. For a complete wrap up of Week 30, click here and check out our column at the MLS site.

Columbus vs Colorado (Thurs, 9:00 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

New York vs San Jose (Sat, 10:00 p.m., TeleFutura)

Real Salt Lake vs FC Dallas (Sat, 5:00, FSC)

Los Angeles vs Seattle (Sun, 8:00, ESPN2)

The midfielder playing in goal, by the way, was the Crew’s Eddie Gaven. He donned the keeper gear when Will Hesmer was hurt in the 86th minute of the Crew’s 3-1 win over Philly, after Columbus had used all its substitutes.

Gaven made two saves and was torched by a screamer from Sebastien Le Toux at the top of the box.

The Merseyside Derby: As American as Baseball, Great Goalkeepers and Credit Default

Welcome to a quick-hit Yanks-in-England weekend preview (many day-job doughnuts were made today).

Let’s start with Sunday’s meeting between Liverpool and Tim Howard’s Everton at Goodison Park. The two teams find themselves in unfamiliar positions—17th place for Everton, 18th for Liverpool—heading into the 214th edition of the rivalry game.

Liverpool has been contending with off-field distractions all season long, and this morning got news that John W. Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox, had won a legal battle clearing the way for his purchase of the team from its previous debt-ridden American owners, Tom Hicks (also a baseball man) and George Gilett.

Henry will pay $477 million for the club, some $200 million less than Forbes’s most recent estimate of its worth.

Everton’s problems have at least been strictly soccer-related, but they’ve been no less troublesome: the Toffees are riddled with injuries. Howard will be ready to go on Sunday, but no fewer than five starters are questionable or out for the big game.

Midfielder Marouane Fellaini pulled a hamstring while playing for Belgium this past week, midfielder Steven Pienaar is out with a groin injury, midfielder Jack Rodwell is out with a bum ankle, striker Luis Saha is doubtful with a calf strain, and defender Phil Jagielka is doubtful with a hamstring tweak.

But no matter who takes the field, this will be a fierce battle as both sides of the rivalry are in desperate need of points.

Fox Soccer Plus has the game at 8:30 a.m. EST on Sunday.

Here are the other Americans in action in the Premier League, all on Saturday:

Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson and Fulham welcome London rivals Tottenham [Fox Soccer Plus, 10:00 a.m. EST].

Stuart Holden and Bolton host Stoke City [Foxsoccer.tv, 10:00. This game will also be rebroadcast on Fox Soccer Plus on Sunday at 10:30 a.m.].

Brad Friedel, Brad Guzan, newly-minted U.S. international Eric Lichaj and Aston Villa host league leaders Chelsea [Fox Soccer Channel, 12:30 p.m.].

Marcus Hahnemann and Wolves play host to Jonathan Spector and West Ham [Fox Soccer Plus, 4:00 p.m. (delay)].

Yanks In England: Weekend Preview

There is a marriage-endangering amount of soccer on TV this weekend.

Depending on what cable/satellite packages you have, you could watch Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Chelsea, Man U, Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and (unbeaten!) Mainz.

Beyond those heavyweights (and multiple other games from their leagues) there are broadcasts from France, Brazil, Colombia, the Netherlands, Mexico, Australia, Portugal, and of course, Major League Soccer.

It’s a bonanza of possibly unprecedented proportions (we’re having the intern look into it). Ten years ago, we wouldn’t have believed it could happen.

Here are the Yanks you can catch on the tube this weekend in the Premier League (all games Saturday, all times EST):

Marcus Hahnemann, Wolves at Wigan, 7:30 a.m., ESPN Deportes—The U.S. keeper’s team needs a win; they’ve lost three straight.

Jonathan Spector, West Ham vs Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, Fulham, 10:00 a.m., Fox Soccer Plus—Spector may not see the field (or the bench), but Dempsey and Johnson both should.

Brad Friedel, Brad Guzan, Eric Lichaj, Aston Villa at Tottenham, 10:00 a.m., Fox Deportes—A good test for Villa, which sits two points ahead of Tottenham in the table.

Stuart Holden, Bolton at West Bromwich Albion, 10:30 a.m. (delay) Fox Soccer Plus—Holden is in great form. Can he keep it going against upstart West Brom?

Tim Howard, Everton at Birmingham City, 12 noon (delay), Fox Soccer Channel—Can Everton climb out of the cellar?

And the rest of the Premier League’s U.S. TV schedule:

Saturday

Sunderland vs Manchester United, 10:00, ESPN2

Stoke City vs Blackburn, 4:00 (delay), Fox Soccer Plus

Sunday

Manchester City vs Newcastle, 8:30, Fox Soccer Plus

Chelsea vs Arsenal, 11:00, Fox Soccer Channel

Liverpool vs Blackpool, 5:00 (delay), Fox Soccer Channel

Question of the Week

If Inter Milan beats Bayern Munich tomorrow to win the Champions League and complete the triple of Serie A, Italian Cup, and Champions League titles, will the United Nations need to adopt a policy of containment w/r/t Inter coach Jose Mourinho’s ego?

Discuss in the comments.

That game is on Fox (not Fox Soccer Channel) at 2:30 p.m. EST.

Other games of note on TV this weekend (all times EST):

Saturday, May 22

Blackpool v Cardiff, Championship Final, Fox Soccer Plus, 10: 00 a.m.

Toronto v New England, MLS, Direct Kick, 1:00 p.m.

Seattle v San Jose, MLS, Fox Soccer Channel, 3:00 p.m.

Turkey v Czech Republic, International Friendly, Fox Soccer Plus, 6:00 p.m.

Houston v D.C. United, MLS, Galavision, 8:00 p.m.

Chivas USA v Real Salt Lake, MLS, Direct Kick, 10:30 p.m.

Sunday, May 23

New York (MLS) v Juventus, International Friendly, Fox Soccer Channel, 1:00 p.m.

Kansas City v Columbus, MLS, Direct Kick, 4:00 p.m.

Enjoy the games.