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Earlier this month, D.C. United, the MLS professional soccer team based in Washington, announced they will no longer broadcast their matches on cable or satellite channels. Instead, they’ll be available to stream online–for a price. The soccer club has made a deal with FloSports, a pay streaming service, for the next four years. So what does this mean for local fans?
Produced by Cydney Grannan and Ingalisa Schrobsdorff
KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. DC United announced earlier this month that they will no longer broadcast their games on cable or satellite channels. Instead, they will be available to stream online, but for a price. United has made a deal with Flo-Sports, a subscription-based streaming service that specializes in niche events like bowling, gymnastics and weightlifting. Joining us to talk about what this means for DC United fans is Pablo Maurer. He is a correspondent for The Athletic. Pablo, thank you for joining us.
PABLO MAURERThanks for having me on.
NNAMDIAlso with us is James Lambert. He is president of Screaming Eagles, one of three DC United Supporters Clubs. James Lambert, thank you for joining us.
JAMES LAMBERTHappy to be back.
NNAMDIAnd Chris Hull is the Vice President overseeing supporter relations and media for DC United. Chris Hull, thank you for joining us.
CHRIS HULLThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIChris, what's the deal that DC United has made with the streaming service Flo-Sports?
HULLWell, first of all, Kojo, uh, thank you for this opportunity to talk to our supporters about this new broadcast deal and this new direction for DC United. Certainly, in my time with the club, around about eight months now -- and I hope Pablo to my right and James from the Screaming Eagles and La Barra Brava and District Ultras would agree -- that the transparency and trust is stronger than it has been for some time. And I think there's been a rebirth in the connection with the club and its fans, and that is represented by our daily engagement with the fans. And also, we have a supporters group meeting, a monthly meeting which actually happens tomorrow, where we'll be able to give more exact details about the new Flo-Sports deal, which will be in HD for the first time for the club in a number of seasons. And that communication has improved across the board in many developments with the club, and also stadium developments, which will be delighted to bring the fans up-to-date with on a regular basis.
HULLBut that trust and respect and pride and passion between the clubs, players, and fans is really important to us, and that is very much symbolized within this new arrangement within Flo-Sports. Many people are very positive about this new development, Kojo -- others, less so. And within that group of people over the coming weeks and days and months, we need to make sure that we demonstrate to them that this is a very historic development in the history of DC United.
HULLAnd while we appreciate all of our relationships with the media over 23 years, this is the first time that a media organization has ever come forward with the amount of year-round commitment to DC United. And that's why the club is very much embracing this new relationship, this multiyear relationship, with Flo-Sports, because we now have limitless time to go behind-the-scenes to talk to players, engage with our head coach and coaches, going into the locker room access, and give our supporters exclusive content like they've never received before.
HULLAnd also, very important to me and Pablo and James and many other supporters of DC United out there, it's about paying homage to our club's history and tradition. At DC United, we are the most decorated and storied club in the history of US soccer, and previously we have not had the opportunity or the platform to be able to tell that rich story. With Flo-Sports, over the course of 365 days a year, we now have that huge platform, Kojo.
NNAMDIThat might be the most colorful public relations spiel I have ever heard in my life.
NNAMDIThat's all right.
HULLI apologize, Kojo.
NNAMDIThat's all right. Until now, Flo-Sports has specialized in niche sports in America, like college wrestling and track and field. Why did Flo-Sports want this deal with a Major League Soccer team?
HULLWell, I would suggest that they saw in DC United, as I've already mentioned, the most decorated and storied club. They also have a new arrangement with the CONCACAF Nations League, which they just announced today. They have Big 10 soccer, which includes the University of Maryland. So, this is an area which they are certainly building upon, and also, they have 20 other sports properties and platforms, which DC United fans will also be able to enjoy by subscribing up front to the DC United platform over the course of this 2019 season and beyond.
NNAMDIPablo, you have been reporting on this. What is your take on what's in this for Flo-Sports?
MAUREROn what's in it for Flo-Sports, you know, I think it's probably the biggest property they've ever acquired, maybe, from a visibility standpoint, certainly in soccer. So, I think, obviously, to them, it might be sort of a premiere property they can push around and use to acquire other properties. There's some positives for the team, as well. I mean, it's certainly a -- it's been reported, you know, that the team is -- the deal is worth about 14 million bucks, so obviously, it's a good infusion of cash to the team.
MAURERBut, you know, there are negatives, too, that have been reported on, and people are certainly making their voices heard in social media. Maybe you'll hear from some of those people later. I'm not sure.
NNAMDIWe'll be hearing from some of them already, but Pablo, you agree that there is an upside for DC United? Obviously, the financial upside -- you mentioned $14 million -- but also for fans. What do you see as the positives for fans?
MAURERIt's a tricky one. I mean, I think it depends on how much the average fan cares about sort of getting additional content, right? I think Flo-Sports, if they're investing this much money in the deal, they're obviously going to put the time and effort in to produce quality content, sort of off, you know, stuff away from game days in the middle of the week. There is a huge segment of the populous that are, like, me, myself, I just want to watch the game. I really don't care about watching the...
NNAMDIThe additional content.
MAURERExactly, watching a six-minute video on a player, or something like that. I just tune in and I tune out, you know? So...
NNAMDISome people do like those, though.
MAURERFor sure, yeah. I think increasingly so. You know, I might be sort of a dinosaur when it comes to that. I'm not sure. But, yeah, you know, the positive -- the main positive I think would be that they -- that United probably has a broadcast partner maybe for the first time in its history that might be truly committed to sort of covering the team in an in-depth way.
NNAMDIAnd for you James, you head up the biggest fan club for the team. How did members of the Screaming Eagles react to this news?
LAMBERTObviously, there was a lot of concern upfront, and I think part of that was when Pablo came out and did his great reporting, some of the details that the team was, you know, not ready to roll out right away. So, there was a lot of unanswered questions that, in the intervening weeks, have been answered. I think the concerns fall into two piles. One is that this is just an extra cost for people that want to watch their team play. And if you already have ESPN+ and watch the rest of the MLS games over that, this is an additional subscription on top of it, on top of if you have your cable/satellite package, that while, you know, the most dedicated supporters are going to go out and find it and we're going to make it work, that still, it's just, you know, an extra cost on top.
LAMBERTI think that the team, you know, giving us the discount for season ticket members and supporters clubs was a, you know, a solid gesture, understanding how important this is to us, and that we are going to go out and sign up kind of no matter what. I think the other concern that we heard a lot of was we want support for the team to grow, and we are finally more engaged in our community, more relevant in Washington than we had been in a while. Wayne Rooney is a large part of that, even internationally. And we want the casual fan to be able to tune in and start to find the love we have for the club, and that's going to be harder when you can't just flip it on in your cable package.
NNAMDIIs that the biggest complaint that you've been hearing, that the coming of Wayne Rooney, the success he helped bring to the team, brought aboard a lot of casual fans who are not diehard, hardcore soccer fans before, the complaint you're hearing is that you don't want to lose those people?
LAMBERTRight. You'll be want -- you want new people to be able to come in and discover what we love about them. I think the team next year on the field could be very, very exciting, and that's easy to hook people in with, but if they can't see the match, you know, we -- it's tough to retain them. It's tough to bring them into the community that we love so much.
NNAMDIHere is Eric, in Annandale. Eric, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ERICHello, hello. I am one of those diehard, hardcore fans. I'm a member of one of the other supporters groups myself. I have two questions. First off, ESPN+ was mentioned, and I just noticed there is a price discrepancy. So, I want to know, am I getting more than just, like, Lucho and friends barbequing on the grill? Like, what else am I getting for those extra $2 a month I'm spending that I’m not getting with ESPN+? And my other question is, if we're getting as -- I thought it was 13. I guess Mr. Maurer, correct me, it's closer to 14 million, can we just pay Lucho, please? And I can take the answer off the air.
HULLEric, it's $5.99 a month if you are a member of the supporters groups Screaming Eagles, La Barra Brava, District Ultras, but also if you're a season ticket member, as well. Eric, I venture to say if you've been there since day one of this great club, you would not have imagined that one day, a media partner would develop an entirely separate DC United channel, which means unlimited time to honor the history of your club, but also celebrate the present, as well. And I appreciate that change is sometimes difficult, but with change comes opportunity, and we're living in a very changing media world, Eric, how content is consumed. I'm sure you'll agree with that.
HULLAn entire generation is consuming most of their content on tablets and phones and computers. I'm sure that there's many listeners listening to Kojo's show right now digitally, as well. Obviously, the support coming into the club is a great thing, but this relationship is much beyond finance. Our ownership and our direction, realize that this new relationship with Flo-Sports represents the opportunity for fans to get excited about and really get under the skin of the club, but also have a limitless amount of time to be able to pay homage to our history, but also celebrate Wayne Rooney, a half-a-billion dollar stadium in Audi Field and one of the most exciting young teams in Major League Soccer, Eric.
NNAMDIPablo, what have you been hearing from fans?
MAURERYeah, I just want to kind of more directly address Eric's concern. It is tough to see this deal of Flo-Sports being a better value than something like ESPN+, which has a similar price point, already has every other out-of-market MLS game, and that there's a wide, you know, number of people who watch MLS who already subscribe to ESPN+. I think maybe, in regards to what I've heard from fans, I mean, there's a bit of an outcry because the team could have paired with ESPN+ or could have paired with -- there were a number of other players, you know, Hulu, DirecTV, you know, other services that maybe offer more value.
MAURERI mean, I think there are, you know, a common sort of thing that people say almost flippantly is, oh, you know, great. In addition to DC United, now I get, you know, college wrestling or, you know, rugby or whatever. And while there's a ton of people that care about those niche sports, I would imagine they're probably in the minority. You know, so I think the biggest concern for people -- and it's a totally justified concern -- is, you know, well, this is another $6 a month, $8, $9 a month, whatever, that I'm paying a lot of people are exhausted by that.
MAURERThey already pay for Netflix. They already pay for, you know, YouTube TV or Hulu or any of those other cord-cutting services. So, the price is sort of starting to add up.
NNAMDIWell, Paul Wardle (sp?), who e-mailed us, loves this. He says: I welcome DCU's move to its own streaming platform. I ditched cable years ago. The sport of America's future doesn't need to rely on the television delivery platforms of the past. James, what -- do you think most Screaming Eagles fans will pay for the Flo-Sports subscription? Why will they or won't they get a subscription?
LAMBERTI think most will, because they want to see their club, and they're going to do what it takes to see their club, home and away. It's just the question of, you know, the complaining comes around how difficult that will be.
LAMBERTI mean, I think we've been happy with, one, going back to HD. That was probably the major complaint in the last two years, was not having HD broadcasts, and it just was unpleasant. I think the other thing we've been happy is the team has assured us that a lot of the supporters, you know, will watch in a partner bar. In our case, ours is Across The Pond on Connecticut Avenue in DC, and they've assured that they're going to, you know, make sure that all the bars have the match on, have it technically working, which is a large part of what we do.
NNAMDII was going to go to a break, but since you brought up bars, let's go to Brian in Manassas before we go to break. Brian, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRIANHi, thank you for taking my call. That was actually one of my questions, was how would this subscription service impact going out to restaurant and bars? I mean, do they now have to go through the song and dance to get this up and running? Just from a casual standpoint, I'd say I'm higher on the spectrum of a more serious casual fan, but not quite hardcore. And I would think with the success of last season, the new, you know, the new Audi stadium, we want to keep it on, you know, public TV as much as possible to get more eyes on the stadium, draw more people out to Buzzard Point.
NNAMDIBrian also wants to know how he's going to see it in his favorite restaurants and bars. Chris?
HULLBrian, it's a very good point. We've got 25 bars already showing an interest in the DMV area that want to show the DC United matches that will be on Flo-Sports, and that number's growing all the time. And we want to try to find as many opportunities and ways for DC United supporters to be able to watch the games, whether it's domestically at home, or whether it's in the bar, as well. And I think you're going to see, Brian, as well, in the next five years, so many more clubs and leagues moving in this direction.
HULLStreaming is now actually TV. That's how many people and younger audiences define the digital video distribution, the consumption model. This is their reality. But with the bars, we will be working with at least 25 bars, and more are coming online all the time. And over the next few days, we hope to reveal even more details where DC United fans will be able to watch it, not just in home, but also in bars and clubs, as well.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about the decision by the DC United Soccer Club to, in future, stream their games with a subscription rather than having them on regular cable or satellite. We're talking with Pablo Maurer. He is a correspondent for The Athletic. Chris Hull is the Vice President overseeing supporter relations and media for DC United. And James Lambert is President of Screaming Eagles, one of three DC United supporters clubs.
NNAMDIWe got an e-mail from Tom in Silver Spring, who says: I've been a fan of the black and red since their very first season, and was outraged by the news that I can no longer see their games on TV without shelling out nine bucks per month or over $80 for a full season. For just a couple bucks more, I could buy a full slate of an MLS season on MLS Direct Kick. This is a money grab from a very loyal fanbase, which is very diverse, both socially and economically, many of whom will have to choose between tickets or TV. Is that the choice you think they'll have to make, Chris Hull?
HULLI think many of the black and red supporters who have been there since day one, since 1996, have probably seen investment like never before in the last 12 to 24 months with the advent of Audi Field, which cost the club in the region of $500 million invested in Wayne Rooney, an incredibly exciting young team. I think the majority of supporters realize that the investment is there, and when an organization like Flo-Sports comes around with a commitment that it has had, much more beyond finance that helps to take DC United into the future, I think people do appreciate that.
HULLObviously, some don't, and I'm not expecting overnight people to listen to this radio broadcast and change their opinion. But it's up to the club now to show that this relationship is about creating in-depth content and showing about a greater connection with its supporter base.
MAURERYeah, I would just point out quickly to the person who emailed's point, it is, I think, exhausting for a lot of United fans who, you know, they're now having to pay for a product that they've -- that's always either been included with their cable or whatnot, it's a lot to stomach all at once, too, because the prices for tickets at the new facility are so much higher and, you know, it can sort of -- I think a lot of people genuinely feel priced out of a product that, for so many years in DC, was something that appealed to, you know, to people of every socioeconomic background.
MAURERIt's just a point that should be made, you know? You can kind of see how somebody might feel that way a little bit.
NNAMDIJames, do you think that putting DC United games behind a subscription pay wall will impact the team's ability to attract casual fans?
LAMBERTI think, especially in the first season, yes. I mean, it's just going to be more difficult to find the match. There's always the balance of at what point do you cut the cord? And as more people cut the cord and you pick up other properties, whether it's CONCACAF Nations League, whether it's any other Europeans teams that Flo-Sports may bid on, there's the chance to bring in casual fans that way.
LAMBERTI mean, I'm going to have to make that decision myself whether this pushes me over the edge and, say, you know, getting rid of my cable package and just, you know, going -- selecting services as I like. But, up front, I think it definitely will.
NNAMDIWell, here's Tab in Gaithersburg, who would like to comment on the current TV coverage. Tab, your turn.
TABYeah, I just have a brief comment and then a question. I think the coverage on the local media station is just abysmal. It would give more airtime to high school sports or Jay Gruden's son scoring a basket in Division III college basketball. That's how ridiculous it was, so I actually welcome the change.
TABAnd my question is, as far as the commentators, would it continue to put Dave Johnson and Devon McTavish, still be the ones who call the game?
NNAMDIA conversation we have just had here in the break, and James Lambert is suggesting that if there's no Dave Johnson, there might be a riot or two. What do you say, Chris Hull?
HULLAs long as Dave Johnson can find the time amongst his tireless schedule, Dave Johnson will be in the commentary booth come the first Flo-Sports game of the new season.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Tab. Here is Steven, in DC. Steven, your turn.
STEVENHi, there. I am a season ticket holder of DC United, and I love going to the games. I love following the team, but I do not envision me getting the streaming service, and I don't want to be a crusader for non-season ticket holders, but I actually am very, very pessimistic that this is going to grow the fanbase.
STEVENI appreciate the lower price for season ticket holders, but I forget, how much is it for non-season ticket holders? I think that is going to be the problem. People...
NNAMDIHow much is it for non-season ticket holders?
HULL$8.99 per month, and the details will be confirmed shortly. Sorry, Kojo, what was the name of the supporter that just phoned in?
NNAMDIIt is Steven.
HULLSteven? Thank you...
HULL...for your question, Steven. A lot of these details will be revealed over the next few days. We've got a supporter's group meeting tomorrow where we'll be able to distribute even more information, as well. But if you're a supporter -- if you're one of the supporter's groups or Barra Brava, District Ultras or Screaming Eagles, or a partner of the club, you are able to get it for $5.99 per month, $8.99 per month if you are a supporter, but not a supporter of a supporter's group or a season ticket member.
NNAMDIPablo, two other Major League Soccer teams made similar arrangements with streaming services last year: the Chicago Fire made a deal with YouTube TV and Los Angeles Football Club teamed up with ESPN+. How successful have their transitions to streaming been?
MAURERWell, so those two are actually flip-flopped. LAFC is with YouTube TV, Chicago with ESPN+. But, to your point, relatively successful. I mean, I think they're both unique, though, when you compare to DC's deal with LAFC. YouTube TV is, like, a legitimate cord-cutting service. You get a lot of non-soccer content. Additionally, you can still watch the games on cable television, they're just Spanish language broadcasts, but they still are available to people who don't want to pony up the cash.
MAURERThe Fire, they partnered with ESPN+. They're the official broadcast partner of the league, streaming-wise, for out-of-market games. I mean, you do pay the $6 a month, but you don't just get Chicago Fire games. You get every other MLS game that's not in your market, you can stream. So, they've both done pretty well, but they're unique, you know, completely different sort of over the Flo-Sports deal.
LAMBERTYeah, I was actually just out this past weekend at the Independent Supporters Council Conference in Dallas, which is kind of the leadership of supporters groups from all over North America. And the LAFC fans were very happy with the package, but, as Pablo said, it was a little bit different. I think one of the things that made them happy is they were surprised by how much other content was on YouTube TV once they got a hold of it. And that's, you know, in the future it's really the make-or-break, in some ways, is what else are getting for your money.
NNAMDIChris, that Flo-Sports is new to this particular area, soccer. Is DC United kind of a guinea pig for streaming regular soccer games for Flo-Sports?
HULLClearly, soccer/football is an area in which Flo-Sports are taking incredibly seriously, and I think the commitment from Flo-Sports is about being part of something that has the potential not only to take DC United in the future, but also to develop their soccer/football offering. Flo have put a lot of time investment into this arrangement.
HULLAnd just to go back to Ted's point before, you know, broadcasters and sports and others need to be on stream devices if it needs to retain relevancy going forward, and we believe, at DC United, that given the days and weeks and months ahead, the supporters -- obviously, there's a lot of people that are very positive about it, there are others less so -- those supporters that are less so will see the quality of the broadcast, and will jump on board.
NNAMDIWe mentioned earlier, James, that a lot has been cleared up. Does that suggest, at least I certainly -- it inferred to me that DC United has been working with supporters clubs on this transition? And if so, how?
LAMBERTYes, definitely. I mean, we, you know, we were reached out to and asked for our concerns up front, and the concerns that they could address right away, they did. And as Chris said, I think we're going to get a lot more details tomorrow at the meeting we're sitting down with. But what I was talking about with partner bars and making sure that got done was something that was right up front that they were able to say, yes, we're going to make sure to, you know, work with all the bars that, you know, watch -- typically watch matches at, make that happen.
LAMBERTIn the last six to nine months, the communication between the club and the supporters groups has become, you know, there's much better communication, and this kind of falls in that category, as well.
NNAMDIPablo, do you think more sports teams in Major League Soccer and other sports will start transitioning to pay streaming services?
MAURERYeah, 100 percent. I mean, I -- definitely one thing I wouldn't argue with is that I think DC is either staying with or getting ahead of the ball here with this deal. You know, I know the league put Flo-Sports in touch with DC United. I've spoken to people at the league office that say, hey, we're actively shopping these local deals to streaming outlets, whether they be major ones or more sort of niche content providers.
MAURERI genuinely think, like, in a decade, that these sort of local broadcast deals with local sports networks, cable networks, will probably be a thing of the past, I mean, for better or for worse. It's, like I said, the cranky old man in me is sad about that, but, you know, whatever.
NNAMDIChris, in the 30 seconds we have left...
NNAMDI...here's a tweet: with a Flo's arrival, I'm excited about the prospect of more multimedia content from the team, video features, player interviews, perhaps a midweek coach's show. Did any of DCU's other media options offer a credible route to that kind of content?
HULLI think what Flo-Sports can do -- because this is a fundamental component of their broadcast offering and their broadcast soccer offering -- is that they're going to give us almost limitless time to do what that tweeter has just pointed out. We're going to be able to get in under the skin of DC United like never before and give unrivaled, rich, in-depth coverage for the black and red in celebrating our 24th season, shortly arriving at our landmark 25th season.
NNAMDIChris Hull, he is the Vice President overseeing supporter relations and media for DC United. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIPablo Maurer is a correspondent for The Athletic. Pablo, good to see you.
NNAMDIJames Lambert is President of Screaming Eagles, one of three DC United Supporters Clubs. James, thanks for coming back.
LAMBERTThanks for having me.
NNAMDIToday's conversation on DC United was produced by Cydney Grannan. Our update on back pay for federal contractors was produced by Ruth Tam. Coming up tomorrow, we continue our exploration of the regional workforce. The gig economy has made contract workers out of everyone from dog walkers to rideshare drivers to adjunct professors and theater employees. We will do a deep dive into what temporary labor looks like in Washington. That all starts tomorrow at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I am Kojo Nnamdi.
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