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Jim Williams: New TV deal makes NBC the top soccer network

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Sports,Jim Williams

Wednesday night's playoff game between D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls will be broadcast by NBC Sports Network at 8?p.m. The network made a major investment in MLS to televise 38 regular-season games, three playoff matches and two national team games over the next three years.

Last week NBC Universal made another substantial soccer deal, acquiring the rights to the English Premier League. The bold move makes NBC the top soccer network in the United States after beating out ESPN, Fox Sports and beIN Sport for the rights. According to the Sports Business Journal, the deal is worth around $83 million per year, more than triple the amount Fox currently pays for the rights.

The Premier League deal allows for up to 380 games over a 41-week season, and the network is likely to broadcast more than 250 games per year live. NBC, NBC Sports Network, Telemundo and mun2 will air the vast majority of the games, with ?NBCSports.com streaming contests.

Fox, along with ESPN, did an outstanding job building interest in international soccer. The UEFA Champions League will stay with Fox, and the network owns the rights to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 World Cup. ESPN will keep its MLS rights, as well as some U.S. national team rights.

BeIN Sport, the aggressive new network started by Al Jazeera, now has the U.S. rights to carry the top leagues from Spain, Italy and France and the U.S. national team's World Cup qualifying road games.

Soccer's demographics are tracking well among the younger age group (12 to 34) in both men and women, but the sport also does well with men ages 34 to 54 -- which is the money group.

More kids are playing soccer in the United States than Little League baseball or girls' softball. While soccer ratings are growing, major league baseball ratings are declining. Investment in soccer as a growing sport paid off for both Fox and ESPN.

Now NBC and beIN Sport have put up the big bucks, betting that over the next 10 years soccer could rival baseball in the U.S.

Examiner columnist Jim Williams is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning TV producer, director and writer. Follow him on Twitter @wordmandc.

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