On Dec. 17, Orlando City SC announced a new television deal with Fox 35/My65 to carry all MLS games (except those carried nationally by MLS partner networks) in 2015. The club is also reportedly working on deals to have games televised in the Tampa and Jacksonville markets. With new MLS clubs planned for Atlanta and Miami, along with the growth of the North American Soccer League (NASL), capturing these markets immediately is extremely important.
Orlando City would love to be the southeast’s team but that might be a challenge. Unlike smaller countries around the world, American sports fans are generally divided by television markets. With Atlanta joining MLS in 2017 and being the capital of the southeast, it’s likely their games will be televised in states like Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and South Carolina.
With the region being split, Orlando City would like to own the state of Florida. But there is another Florida city looking to join MLS in Miami. Though difficulties have put a Miami expansion franchise into doubt, MLS would love to have Miami and its owner, David Beckham, in the league. If Miami does get its franchise off the ground, they would likely control the south Florida market.
A third obstacle to controlling additional markets is the NASL itself. While the league continues to grow and has expressed its aspiration of usurping MLS as America’s top domestic soccer league, its teams don’t usually get quite as good television deals. The Tampa Bay Rowdies have a deal with Great38, the sister station of local NBC affiliate WFLA, and the Armada have an agreement with Jacksonville’s local CW station. While great deals for NASL teams, as the top-tier league, MLS clubs can garner better deals.
While clubs from around the state are trying to gain the support of the die-hard soccer fans, they are also fighting for the casual and non-soccer fans. There are two ways to gain the support of these fans: live games and accessible television. Either the fans are brought to a game by existing fans of the sport or they stumble upon a game airing on a well-known local channel.
To become the most popular professional soccer club in the Tampa and Jacksonville markets, Orlando City should be working for television deals similar to the one they currently have in their home market. The reason the deal with Fox 35 is so special is that it is the local Fox affiliate, meaning that it is well known to all in the area. The best way to gain new fans is to give them the ability to easily watch games with no expense. The attractive deals by the Rowdies and Armada mean that the Lions will need to go one step further and get Orlando City games on a network affiliate’s channel.
As the only MLS club in the southeast (for now), Orlando City has opportunities that other professional soccer clubs currently don’t have. While future MLS teams in Atlanta and Miami may limit Orlando City games from being televised in those areas, they can still dominate the remainder of the state of Florida. For that to happen, the Lions should form deals with network affiliates from those areas, making it easier for fans across the region to find the games on television.