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ESPN, Fox make deals with MLS,U.S. Soccer that run through 2022

ESPN and Fox Sports executives see devoted fans at Major League Soccer matches and figure burgeoning national-television viewership is soon to follow.

It hasn’t happened yet despite Americans’ surging interest in the sport. The networks are betting ratings will increase in the next eight years, agreeing to pay more in a new long-term contract.

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“We’ve been a little puzzled. Clearly, when we did the last deal we would’ve expected to see a higher growth curve,” ESPN president John Skipper said. “We’re kind of doubling down. We still think it’s going to happen.”

Eric Shanks, president of Fox Sports, said, “We know what we can do with this and we know that this is a deal for the future, not just right now.”

The agreements announced Monday with MLS and U.S. Soccer run through 2022. Univision also extended its contract for Spanish-language rights.

One MLS goal was to lock in the same day for a game of the week throughout the season for the first time. Univision will air a match every Friday night. And a doubleheader will take place every Sunday — one game on ESPN at 2 p.m. Pacific time, then the nightcap on Fox Sports 1 at 4 p.m.

“We think that will help drive ratings,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said.

This is first time ESPN has agreed to be part of a regular doubleheader across two networks, Skipper said. He has noticed his company and its competitors are cooperating with each other more lately on leagues they both televise.

The contract also includes the men’s and women’s national-team games for which U.S. Soccer holds the rights, including exhibitions and home World Cup qualifiers. ESPN and FS1 will split about 10 U.S. men’s matches each year.

Viewership for MLS matches slid in 2013. Regular-season games on ESPN and ESPN2 averaged 220,000 viewers, down from 311,000 in 2012.

Ferdinand plans to leave Man U

Rio Ferdinand, 35, said he is leaving Manchester United after 12 years at the English Premier League team but wants to continue playing.

Ferdinand joined Manchester United from Leeds for more than $49 million in 2002, making him at that time the most expensive player in English soccer.

Track and field

Psychiatrist testifies Pistorius has an anxiety disorder

Oscar Pistorius has an anxiety disorder that might have contributed to the fatal shooting of his girlfriend, an expert testified at his murder trial in South Africa, prompting the chief prosecutor to say the double-amputee Olympian should be placed under psychiatric observation.

The judge has not yet ruled on prosecutor Gerrie Nel’s application the court considers a period of mental evaluation for Pistorius.

Dr. Merryll Vorster, a psychiatrist called by the defense, testified a series of events in Pistorius’ turbulent life, including the amputation of his lower legs as a baby, his parents’ divorce, his late mother’s habit of sleeping with a gun under her pillow and his own fear of violent crime contributed to his “increasing stress.”

Vorster said Pistorius’ anxiety, combined with his physical disability, might have caused him to act differently from other people when he shot four times through a toilet-stall door at his home in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013, killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius, 27, claims he mistook Steenkamp for a dangerous intruder. Prosecutors say he killed the 29-year-old model and reality-TV performer after an argument and shot in anger.

College football

Nelson faces felony charges

Former Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson was charged with two counts of felony assault after a weekend fight outside a Mankato, Minn., bar that left another man gravely injured.

Nelson, 20, kicked 24-year-old Isaac Dallas Kolstad in the head while Kolstad was on the ground after being struck by another man early Sunday morning, according to a criminal complaint. Kolstad, 24, a former Minnesota State-Mankato linebacker, was in critical condition Monday with a head injury.

The complaint said witnesses described Nelson as being upset over attention being paid to his girlfriend.

Nelson, who played in 11 games for Minnesota last season, announced in January he would transfer to Rutgers. He would have two seasons of eligibility left after sitting out the 2014 season.

Tennessee LB is shot in arm

Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, 19, was shot in the arm at a party Sunday in his hometown of Clarksville, Tenn. School officials report he wasn’t seriously injured.


• Sky-team cyclist Bradley Wiggins of Britain powered to a 44-second victory in a time trial that was the second stage of the Tour of California. Wiggins, the 2012 Tour de France winner and Olympic time-trial gold medalist, completed the 12.5-mile course in Folsom in 23 minutes, 18 seconds and has the overall lead in the eight-day race.

Australian Rohan Dennis of the Garmin-Sharp team was second in 24:02.

American Alison Powers of the UnitedHealthcare team won the women’s time trial in 27:40.

• U.S. women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma’s staff for the FIBA World Championship will include assistants Doug Bruno of DePaul, Dawn Staley of South Carolina and Cheryl Reeve of the WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx.

Auriemma guided the U.S. team to gold medals at the 2010 world championship and the 2012 Olympics. He has coached Connecticut to nine NCAA titles.

The world championship starts Sept. 27 in Turkey.

• Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome arrived at Pimlico in Baltimore, site of Saturday’s Preakness. The colt stopped and posed for a group of photographers. “He’ll sit out there and pose all day,” said assistant trainer Alan Sherman. “ He loves the cameras and the attention.”

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