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WarnerMedia, Turner a quiet candidate for next MLS rights

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WarnerMedia MLS Rights

AT&T’s media entity WarnerMedia is in the mix for at least a piece of the MLS rights.

In fact, WarnerMedia showed interest in acquiring the U.S. rights to the English Premier League. However, NBC extended its deal with the EPL in November through the 2027/28 season. Since then, MLS appeared as the next big media rights package up for grabs.

Among the likes of ESPN, FOX, and CBS, WarnerMedia has interest in acquiring at least a piece of MLS’s domestic rights.

WarnerMedia’s bid for Premier League rights fell just short. Yet, it was not for a lack of financial resources. With the monetary means still available, WarnerMedia can direct these to other potential rights. Ergo, Major League Soccer.

Our sources at World Soccer Talk indicated that WarnerMedia and its subsidiary, Turner Sports, are dialed-in on MLS. The current MLS rights deal expires at the end of the 2022 season. WarnerMedia eyes up at least a piece of the rights starting in 2023.

WarnerMedia and Turner’s Soccer Coverage

WarnerMedia’s bid for Premier League rights likely included multiple linear channels. Additionally, the media conglomerate included the potential of multiple streaming services. As things stand, the Discovery-AT&T merger awaits regulatory approvals. Even then, HBO Max and Bleacher Report remain streaming options for MLS.

The Discovery piece was probably more critical for European rights, such as the Premier League, as Discovery Networks have significant experience broadcasting soccer in Europe. Experience is something that WarnerMedia lacks in terms of European soccer coverage.

Many soccer fans dismiss Turner Sports because of the difficult 19 months they had broadcasting UEFA club competitions. In reality, WarnerMedia changed significantly since then. Moreover, Turner’s coverage of European competitions does not terribly bother or interest most MLS fans.

In fact, Turner’s millennial-centric approach to coverage could be attractive to some of MLS’s target audience. This is especially applicable in places like Austin and Nashville, which of course have relatively new clubs.

However, one caveat is for the broadcaster to avoid branding all of its coverage with the “B/R Live” moniker. Not only is that brand damaged, but it serves to trivialize the coverage. The Turner Sports name has much more residual name ID and credibility among sports fans. This includes a number of American soccer fans.

Turner vs. The Competition

One important note in this discussion is that Turner Sports does not broadcast any college football currently. Despite a rich history in the sport including the SEC, PAC-10 and Big 12, ESPN and FOX have a strangle on college football. Of course, this makes WarnerMedia and Turner a more attractive potential partner for MLS.

Additionally, outside of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the provider does not broadcast college basketball. Turner  lost virtually all its golf coverage as well and does not broadcast the NFL.

Turner Sports does broadcast the NBA, MLB and NHL. However, most programming conflicts that hobbled MLS and soccer in general through the years happened due to carriers prioritizing NFL or college football. Therefore, Turner is ideal for Major League Soccer.

The Next MLS TV deal

The package that MLS is offering broadcasters beginning in 2023 differs greatly from previous years. One major gap is that, in this go-round, the rights do not include the USMNT and USWNT. But, in its place, MLS has an exciting new summer tournament, the Leagues Cup. Additionally, the deal, expected to find a suitor in early 2022, features matches from a new third division. The league, known as MLS Next Pro, includes both MLS reserve teams and independent clubs.

MLS will presumably also include matches from its MLS Next youth academy program in the package.  MLS Next is two seasons old now. Therefore, it was not included in the previous negotiations for MLS rights.

WarnerMedia and MLS Rights

Here is a quick primer of what WarnerMedia covering MLS could look like:

  • A weekly weekend match broadcast on TNT or TBS. This could slot in on a Sunday evening and feature full studio wraparound coverage. Compare it to how Turner broadcasts the NBA and NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournaments. Or, WarnerMedia could go the millennial-feel route like they did with UEFA club competitions. One thing they should do for sure is market the broadcasts as “Turner Sports” or “TNT or TBS” instead of “B/R Live.” TruTV remains an option if needed for spillover matches or due to broadcast conflicts.
  • Turner produces a weekly magazine program that airs sometime during the week on MLS. This is something ESPN has failed to consistently deliver on its years broadcasting the league, with many stops, starts and stops again on various MLS-related bumped programming. The program could be broadcast on either TBS or TNT.
  • HBO Max splits streaming for MLS with another partner (presumably either CBS or ESPN’s streaming components). HBO Max as a streaming service is far more reliable technologically and stability-wise than the clunky B/R Live used on European club coverage from 2018 to 2020.
  • In order to keep Bleacher Report viable and attractive, MLSNext Pro matches are sent to that streaming service with a once-a-week carve out for either broadcast on TNT/TBS or HBO Max.
  • Leagues Cup is shown on multiple networks during the summer using the full thrust of Turner and WarnerMedia’s bandwidth. Only sports programming conflicts will likely be with the MLB as the competition will likely coincide with the NHL and NBA offseason. Imagine Turner showing different Leagues Cup matches on TNT, TBS and HBO Max in a single night.
  • MLS Next, the youth competition could be broadcast occasionally on Bleacher Report. Broadcasting youth competitions has its own legal framework separate from professional or college competitions, so we assume MLS and potential media partners make all of the required legal clearances on this.



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Red Bulls to sign Zach Ryan to MLS deal this week

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On Monday afternoon the Wasserman sports agency confirmed what OaM had learned through various sources in recent weeks — that the New York Red Bulls will be signing forward Zach Ryan to an MLS Homegrown contract for 2022.

The 22-year-old Ryan recently completed a four year career at Stanford University, where won a national championship as a freshman in 2017 and was named PAC-12 Player of the Year in 2020. He finished his college career with 31 goals and 13 assists in 73 games and this past summer he made 2 appearances with the Red Bulls U-23 team in USL League Two, recording 2 goals and 2 assists. He hails from the same hometown as John Tolkin in Chatham, New Jersey and in the Red Bulls academy he was teammates with Omir Fernandez.

While a modernizing MLS has become increasingly difficult for NCAA veterans to adjust to, talent can still be found from the college game and the Red Bulls will have had a better look at Ryan than most pro clubs get at a college player. In Ryan, the Red Bulls will be getting a forward comfortable scoring with both feet in front of goal and also dropping off the line to receive the ball and connect with teammates. Ryan is not a speed demon but he has enough athleticism to meet the demands of the Red Bull system, one he’s already somewhat familiar with from youth levels.

What you will see from Ryan is an efficient player. He doesn’t dwell on the ball — it is one or maximum two touches before making a pass or letting off a shot. This also is how he operates in wide areas looking to pick out the cross early before defenses get a chance. Ryan is a bit similar to Brian White in that he is not someone many will peg for stardom but he has the potential to be a very solid MLS contributor. He will likely start out with Red Bull 2 as most young players do, though Ryan strikes an older profile than the reserve team has been recruiting for in recent years.

Off the field the club is getting a player who is intelligent and talented. At Stanford he received multiple academic awards including being named an Academic All-American in 2020. He was also a member of The Mendicants, Stanford’s first acapella group. I would hate to be the guy who has to follow him in the standard new player talent show done in preseason and road trips.

Meanwhile, Ryan appears to be one of if not the final Homegrown signings of the offseason for New York. Recent rumors around Duke University midfielder Peter Stroud (who spent time in England with the West Ham academy in addition to the Red Bulls and is the younger brother of Jared) have dissipated, although OaM has learned there is potential for third-year Red Bulls II forward Jake LaCava to receive an MLS deal during the preseason camp that opened this morning in East Hanover.





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Blaise Matuidi released on FREE transfer by Inter Miami to pave way for David Beckham to sign another big star

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DAVID BECKHAM has received a huge Inter Miami transfer boost after finally offloading high-earning French World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi on a free transfer.

Sporting director Chris Henderson refused to give much away on Monday about the 34 year-old’s future and would only say talks with his agent remain on-going.

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Blaise Matuidi has been released from his contract by MLS side Inter MiamiCredit: Getty
Davis Beckham's Miami side aim to lure another high-profile star to south Florida

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Davis Beckham’s Miami side aim to lure another high-profile star to south FloridaCredit: Getty

But SunSport understands former Juventus midfielder Matuidi will leave the MLS club shortly and crucially open up a slot for another big hitter to come to south Florida.

While Miami sources have denied Luis Suarez could arrive this summer after his deal at Atletico Madrid expires at the end of the season, with Matuidi gone at least Becks has space in the squad to do some more business. 

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi remain targets even if the former England skipper will have to wait his turn.

Clubs here can only have three top earners – Designated Players (DP’s) – and although Mexican international Rodlofo Pizarro was sent back to Monterrey recently, because his loan free and wages aren’t being taken on fully, Neville was unable to replace him with a new superstar. 

Yet with Matuidi cutting ties with Miami for good, Nev and Becks can now get to work and bring in a big name to try and improve on last season’s disappointing campaign.

The former Juventus man was a disaster in MLS – his transfer in the summer of 2020 contravened strict League financial guidelines which saw the club whacked with debilitating transfer sanctions for the next two years.

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A disastrous deal hatched under the watch of former sporting director Paul McDonough saw Miami pay Matuidi well over the odds for a non-DP player.

That led to a lengthy probe by furious MLS bosses who not only banned McDonough but also fined the club a whopping $2million [£1.47m].

Co-owner Jorge Mas was also hit with a $250,000 [£183k] penalty.

Transfer chief Henderson, however, has worked wonders by cutting the squad dramatically in recent weeks with the likes of Scottish winger Lewis Morgan, Argentine defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Pizarro all leaving.

Ryan Shawcross, the former Stoke defender, is also off the books after being told he wasn’t part of Neville’s plans.

But Nev, who has already brought in a raft of young, hungry players including son Harvey and Brazilian playmaker Jean Mota, has been desperate to get rid of Matuidi.

Matuidi failed to replicate the form which saw him start the World Cup final against Croatia in 2018 and will now work on further bolstering a fresh, new-look team ahead of the season opener next month.

 Read our Transfer News Live blog for the very latest rumours, gossip and done deals





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Inter Miami opened camp with new roster for 2022 MLS season

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Inter Miami CF forward Gonzalo Higuain, left and defender Aimé Mabika run after the ball during the team’s first training session prior to the start of the new MLS season at the team’s training facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Monday, January 17, 2022.

Inter Miami CF forward Gonzalo Higuain, left and defender Aimé Mabika run after the ball during the team’s first training session prior to the start of the new MLS season at the team’s training facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Monday, January 17, 2022.

Special for the Miami Herald

Inter Miami should have added names to the practice jerseys as the team kicked off training camp Monday. There were so many new players reporters had to rely on boot colors and hairstyles to distinguish among them.

More than half of last year’s starting lineup is gone for Season 3, including designated player Rodolfo Pizarro, 2020 MVP Lewis Morgan, defenders Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Christian Makoun, all of whom were traded or loaned. French World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi and Argentine defender Nico Figal are also on their way out.

Replacing them is a collection of young, hungry, speedy players hand-picked by chief soccer officer Chris Henderson and coach Phil Neville. After inheriting much of the club’s original roster when they took over in 2021 and not reaching the playoffs, Henderson and Neville were determined to put their imprint on the team.

They also had to reduce the payroll to compensate for MLS fines for roster rules violations in 2020.

“This is a reset button for the organization,” Neville said. “We knew we had to make big decisions and be brave, and we were willing to do that.”

Neville stressed the amount of research and vetting that Henderson and the scouting team did.

“We’re now not just signing players just because a friend of a friend knows someone who’s good or an agent is close to someone,” he said. “We’re signing someone because they’ve been watched 20, 30, 40 times by five or six people. We know about their family history. We’re not signing players on a whim. We’re signing players that fit with our team. I’ve had input. There are no excuses now.”

The season begins with a long list of questions.

How does Gonzalo Higuain look?

The Argentine forward and team’s highest-paid player came into camp fitter than last year and highly motivated. Higuain, 34, said Monday his mother’s death and other issues distracted him last season but now he has a clear head and is determined to lead the team to a playoff run. He vowed to be a more vocal leader and maintain a positive attitude.

He also hinted that he’ll assume more of a playmaker role and joked that he’d let the younger, faster players do more of the running.

“If last year at less than 100 percent I was able to score 12 goals and have seven assists, I think this year being focused I can improve my numbers and help the team reach the playoffs,” Higuain said. “A lot of my friends and teammates have left. A big change. With my age and experience I have to be a leader for these young guys.”

Neville and Higuain spoke every day of the offseason.

“We spoke about his legacy in this club,” Neville said. “He wants to be remembered as a winner. You look at how he was training (Monday) and the shape he’s in, that’s someone who has massive motivation. These players when they come in, the first player they want to meet is Gonzalo Higuain. He is the face of this organization on the pitch.”

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Inter Miami CF forward Gonzalo Higuain talks to reporters during a press conference after the team’s first training session prior to the start of the new MLS season at the team’s training facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Monday, January 17, 2022. SAM NAVARRO Special for the Miami Herald

What can fans expect from the new players?

“Youth, energy, speed, and hunger,” Neville said. “We brought in a certain type of player with great character who wants to be part of a team. Last year I felt there were individuals who felt they were more important than the team. The best players don’t always make the best team. I’m in a miles better mindset and more confident than I was a year ago when I sat here and not knowing the players that I was coming in to manage.”

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Inter Miami CF player Ariel Lassiter kicks the ball during the team’s first training session prior to the start of the new MLS season at the team’s training facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Monday, January 17, 2022. SAM NAVARRO Special for the Miami Herald

What’s the latest on Blaise Matuidi and Nico Figal?

Matuidi, 34, has a year left on his contract but is not in the team’s plan for this season. The club is in talks with him and his representatives about a buyout or other solution. Henderson said a statement is expected soon. Figal is being wooed by multiple clubs, Henderson said, and his future should be determined in the coming days.

What can fans expect from Robbie Robinson?

The young forward hopes to stay injury free after battling hamstring problems last season.

“I want to make my stamp this year,” he said. “This could be a really big year for me individually and for this young team, which looks very dynamic, fast, and powerful. We never lived up to what we thought we could do. We want to show what we’re capable of.”

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Inter Miami CF forward Robbie Robinson talks to reporters during the first training session prior to the start of the new MLS season at the team’s training facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Monday, January 17, 2022. SAM NAVARRO Special for the Miami Herald

Did anyone stand out at the first training session?

“(Christopher) McVey’s come in and hasn’t said that much but just does his talking on the football field, which is the type of player I like,” Neville said. “No frills. No histrionics. No drama. Comes into work, does his job, is part of a team. You can say the same for Mo Adams, Ariel Lassiter, (Jairo) Quinteros, (Leonardo) Campana, Emerson (Rodriguez), all the new players.”

Is Inter Miami done wheeling and dealing?

No. Henderson and Neville both said there are a couple of pieces left to complete the team puzzle. They want to add a playmaker, and have been in talks with a few prospects, including Raphael Veiga of Brazilian club Palmeiras. Henderson hopes to get at least one deal done before the season opener Feb. 26, but a player or two could be added later.

This story was originally published January 17, 2022 5:49 PM.

Miami Herald sportswriter Michelle Kaufman has covered 14 Olympics, six World Cups, Wimbledon, U.S. Open, NCAA Basketball Tournaments, NBA Playoffs, Super Bowls and has been the soccer writer and University of Miami basketball beat writer for 25 years. She was born in Frederick, Md., and grew up in Miami.





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