Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ABC, Chelsea, Chris Smalling, English Premier League, ESPN, ESPN2, Fernando Torres, Fox, Fox Soccer Channel, Manchester United, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Nani, NBC, NBC Sports Network, New York Times, NFL, Old Trafford, U.S. National Team, VERSUS, Wayne Rooney
In the first-ever regular-season European soccer match televised by a major American television network, Manchester United strengthened its grip on the top spot in the English Premier League by knocking off Chelsea, 3-1, at Old Trafford. Chris Smalling, Nani and Wayne Rooney scored to give the Reds a three-goal lead at halftime. Chelsea’s Fernando Torres scored a consolation goal but later missed when presented an open net. Rooney also misfired on a penalty-kick attempt. [September 18]
Comment: Do not adjust your set.
Those guys in shorts on your screen really were playing football, on an NFL Sunday. And it came courtesy of Fox–not Fox Soccer Channel, its cable offspring. The game was aired in the U.S. on a delayed basis, either before or after Fox’s regional NFL telecast, thus creating an unprecedented football-gridiron football doubleheader.
The Manchester United-Chelsea game was the first of four Sunday EPL matches that will be aired this fall on Fox, the network no doubt encouraged by the number of viewers–2.6 million–it drew for its live telecast of last May’s UEFA Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Man. U.
Nearly 20 million Americans routinely tune in to watch NFL games. Whether that means that many of them tuned in to see the New Orleans Saints beat the Chicago Bears, then stuck around to watch the doings in the Theater of Dreams, is very questionable. Joe Six-Pack isn’t easily converted, whether it’s politics, religion or, more important, sports. Nevertheless, Fox’s gambit sends a warning shot across the bow of those who continue to dismiss soccer as a sport with no future on American TV.
A month ago, NBC and Major League Soccer announced a $36 million, three-year deal that basically shifts MLS coverage from FSC, which reaches approximately 40 million homes, to the NBC Sports Network (known at present as VERSUS) and its 76 million homes. Beginning in 2012, NBC and the cable NBC Sports Network will show a total of 49 MLS games a season, including four U.S. National Team matches. Of those, the NBC network will air two U.S. games, two MLS regular-season matches and two MLS playoff games.
ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 remains in the game: it still holds the rights to MLS games, including the MLS Cup, through 2014. But as MLS Commissioner Don Garber told the New York Times, “The three-year deal [with NBC] allows us to align all our TV relationships [ESPN, Univision and newbie NBC] to end concurrently at the end of the ’14 season and provides us with a potential opportunity to have a more exclusive relationship with a broadcaster.”
By then, the ratings numbers from another World Cup, driven by that coveted 18- to 34-year-old demographic, will be in. Then the fight over that admittedly modest-but-growing TV soccer pie will begin in earnest.
Hard to believe that when MLS launched in 1996, it had to pay ABC/ESPN for air time. In a country where a sport’s worth is measured by its TV contract, that’s a bit of progress.
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