NBC's three-year deal to broadcast MLS games represents far more than a just fresh start for the 16-year-old league. While many had been calling for MLS to part ways for Fox Soccer for quite some time -- almost no matter the circumstances -- this deal represents a huge step forward for far more practical reasons. The new deal provides significantly more exposure, both in the availability and the number of games that will be nationally broadcasted.
Even before we know how the games will look on the soon-to-be-rebranded NBC Sports Network (currently called Versus), MLS games will be available in about 80 million homes as opposed to the roughly 38 million that currently receive Fox Soccer. The main reason for this increased availability is that Versus is generally available on lower-tier cable packages.
On Comcast, for instance, Versus is on the "Digital Starter Package" whereas Fox Soccer is only available on the "Sports Entertainment Package." On DirecTV, you only need to be the "Choice Xtra" package to receive Versus, but you need the "Premier" or sports packages to receive Fox Soccer. Of the three biggest cable/dish providers, only Dish Network makes Versus and Fox Soccer available at the same subscription level, "America's Top 250."
Beyond availability, the NBC deal also calls for a significant increase in the number of games that will be broadcast. The current one-year, FSC deal was for 31 MLS regular season games and three playoff games. The new NBC deal calls for 38 regular-season games and three playoff games to be aired on NBC Sports Network and two regular-season games and two playoff games to be broadcast on NBC. All told, that's 11 more nationally broadcast MLS games. All games on both networks will also include pre- and post-game shows. NBC will have digital rights to all their games as well, possibly further expanding availability.
This does not mean that FSC's relationship with MLS is entirely over, though. The channel retains rights to CONCACAF Champions League matches. FSC officials have said they made a very similar bid in terms of absolute dollars as NBC (reportedly about $10 million per year), but that this was really about reaching more viewers. The reality was and remains that FSC's bread and butter is English Premier League.