As originally reported by The Big Lead, B&RU has confirmed that D.C. United will be moving to WJLA channel 7, the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C. (along with its sister station NewsChannel 8), as its broadcast partner for 2016 games. Comcast SportsNet, the team's broadcast partner for virtually all of its existence, had a three year deal for broadcast rights that expired at the end of 2015, and the network was handling production costs at one point during the deal. The new deal puts D.C. into a growing group of clubs with a local over-the-air broadcast, joining the Seattle Sounders, Philadelphia Union, Real Salt Lake, Orlando City SC, Sporting Kansas City.
There are two things which likely serve to explain why D.C. is moving to WJLA. First, the chance for local broadcast rights gives the team more visibility. Consider that an opening day scoreless draw between the Union and Colorado Rapids drew a 1.5 rating on Philly's local ABC affiliate, peaking at more than double that in the last 15 minutes. For a reference point, CSN TV games with the Washington Wizards drew a 1.32 Nielsen rating last year in the DC market. Household numbers are roughly the same, but D.C. United's CSN ratings, I'm confident in saying, didn't crack a 1.
and perhaps more importantly, the deal presumably is one where the team receives revenue from WJLA for the rights, while WJLA and its owner Sinclair gain programming for weekend evening slots for eight months a year.
(UPDATE: Steve Goff reports that the team and Sinclair are sharing costs and match production, and the team has an option for a weekly program. Some games will be pushed to Sinclair's NewsChannel 8, a cable platform in the DC area.)
When asked for comment, a team spokesperson told us:
"We are excited about our new partnership with Sinclair that will allow us to increase our reach and provide fans with even more access to the Black-and-Red."
We'll point out that the spokesperson specified the deal is with Sinclair Broadcast Group, WJLA's parent company. This could be important to a lot of fans because Sinclair also owns stations in Baltimore, Richmond, Hampton Roads and Roanoke. It's conceivable - though we haven't confirmed yet - that United could be on the air all over the DMV as a result of this deal.
More to come on the terms of the deal.