Now the Sons of Ben, perhaps the greatest fan club in American soccer, will be able to watch their heroes on the Union and other teams on the Big Boy networks

By Michael McCarthy

Just when you thought the good news about Major League Soccer couldn’t get any better, the league is about to become destination TV.

MLS will announce today an eight-year contract with ESPN, Fox and Univision that will establish weekly broadcast windows for MLS games on Friday and Sunday nights, according to the New York Times.

The new partnership gives the networks the exclusive right to MLS and United States national team games until 2022. ESPN and Fox Sports 1 will split the English-language national team package and will team with Univision’s networks to broadcast about 125 MLS games each season.

But the most important aspect of the deal for MLS and its fans could be the establishment of game-of-the-week windows on all three networks. Univision — primarily UniMas — will show a game of the week on Fridays (with SAP capability for English-speaking fans), and ESPN and Fox Sports 1 will broadcast a doubleheader every Sunday at 5 and 7 p.m.

MLS has long craved such “destination viewing” windows; the league’s expiring TV contract included games on six days of the week and more than 20 start times. The league has said its research shows that even its most dedicated fans sometimes have little idea when the games are on.

League officials are hoping the set broadcast windows and extensive marketing support from all three networks will help MLS translate its consistent rise in attendance into better television ratings. But the move may also help MLS expand its growing foothold in the United States sports market just as it adds teams in New York and Orlando, Fla., and prepares to welcome franchises in Atlanta and Miami over the next few years.

Sports Business Journal, which first reported the negotiations on a new television contract in January, had said the new deal could be worth $70 million a year, a significant increase from the current deal.

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