YouTube TV has secured exclusive rights to games from the new Major League Soccer team in Los Angeles, marking the first time a professional sports team elected to forego a television deal for a streaming service.
The online video giant will carry 18 games on the Los Angeles Football Club’s YouTube TV channel, with viewing restricted to subscribers in the Southern California market. YouTube TV will also carry all 18 of the team’s nationally televised matches via its ESPN, Fox and FS1 channels. The service boasts more than 50 channels since launching in April 2017.
YouTube also nabbed naming rights on LAFC jerseys as part of the multiyear deal.
“LAFC is reimagining the sports landscape in the same innovative way we strive to reimagine the live TV experience,” YouTube Director of Sports Partnerships for the Americas Tim Katz said in a statement today. “We couldn’t be more excited to partner with LAFC to be the exclusive home for all locally televised matches and to share our name on the front of their jerseys.”
The deal marks a milestone in live sports programming. Typically, professional sports teams would negotiate a lucrative carriage agreement with local television affiliates or regional sports networks. That’s still the case for leagues that draw sizable television audiences, like the NFL, which just reached a five-year agreement with Fox for Thursday Night Football.
But the MLS’ deal with YouTube signals a potential sea-change for the owners of professional sports teams, especially those with passionate but niche followings, who’ve contemplated going direct to consumers, via Internet streaming services.
YouTube’s deal also may be a sign of greater willingness on the part of technology companies to pay top dollar to obtain the exclusive rights to carry live sports, as these budding media players seek to build out subscription streaming services.
“We are at the forefront in engaging our fans on a digital, cable-free platform such as YouTube,” LAFC owner and president Tom Penn said. “We are also committed to making our matches accessible everyone throughout Los Angeles, and our upcoming broadcast announcements will provide comprehensive coverage of our club all over Southern California.”
The team begins its inaugural season March 4 and will play its home games at the nearly completed Banc of California Stadium downtown.