NEW YORK (TheStreet) - Mark Abbott has been waiting for this moment for 20 years.
At the end of 2014, the television rights for Major League Soccer, currently held by Disney's (DIS) ESPN, Comcast's (CMCSA) NBC Sports Network and Univision's UniMas, will expire, affording Abbott, the league's president and its first employee, the opportunity to cement a deal that could catapult the 19-team MLS into territory it hasn't known since beginning play in 1996: profitability.
Major League Soccer's chance to negotiate a new television contract comes at a uniquely opportune time for a league that has sometimes struggled to forge a place in the consciousness of the U.S. sports fan. Yet a new television contract could change that dynamic by generating more upfront revenue to support teams operating in the red while providing wider exposure to boost ticket sales.
Talks for a new contract are taking place as pay-TV providers, led by Comcast and Time Warner Cable (TWC), are eager to secure sports programming. With Netflix (NFLX) drawing more subscribers than Time Warner's HBO, live sporting events have become the one bloc of programming that can still sustain traditional pay-TV packages even as fees continue to climb.
"We're very optimistic about the outcome of these discussions for us as we look at our agreement post-2014," said Abbott, who came to MLS in 1993 from the Los Angeles office of Latham & Watkins where he worked for the league's founder, Alan I. Rothenberg. "The market right now for sports rights is robust."