The Soccer TV Marketplace

Yesterday, the NBA announced a new nine-year contract with ESPN and Turner worth $2.66 billion per year, a massive increase over the current deal. That’s a lot of money, and surely inflated by the fact that sports programming will be scarce over the next few years. The NFL, that juggernaut of juggernauts, is under contract through 2022. The NHL has a contract with NBC for $200 million a year (a figure that now looks paltry) through the 2021-22 season. Even MLS went long, and won’t be done with the ESPN and Fox contract until 2021. Add those to baseball, NASCAR, the college football playoff, and March Madness, and you realize that the major American sports competitions are all locked down into the next decade.

But cable sports networks can’t just sit still from now until 2021. Both NBC and Fox have created alternatives (if not yet competitors) to ESPN. Live sports have resisted the erosion of viewership that seemingly all other television has suffered in recent years, and so they’ve become very valuable with the new cable competition. Fox in particular wanted a piece of the NBA pie, while NBCSN still often appears bare in the summer months. In a world where sports are increasingly valuable for television networks, and in a country where soccer is increasingly popular, we have a market where the largest available properties are soccer competitions.

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Fox’s Premier League Piggyback

If you watched the LA Galaxy-New York Red Bulls game Sunday night on ESPN2, you may have been caught off-guard during halftime by the familiar sounds of the Champions League anthem. ESPN, as you surely know, hasn’t shown the Champions League since John Terry’s famous missed penalty against Manchester United in the 2009 final. And yet, there was the anthem, silently accompanied by the news that Atletico Madrid’s match against Juventus will be on ESPN2 this Wednesday.

As it turns out, when ESPN sublicensed the Champions League from Fox to show games on ESPN3.com, they also nabbed the ability to show certain games on television. This is good news, because it means more soccer on your TVs. But I got to wondering: wouldn’t Fox want to keep a game featuring the reigning champions of both Spain and Italy?

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Bloody Confused, by Chuck Culpepper

“It was like childhood, but with beer.”

For many Americans, soccer’s appeal comes from being something new. It’s a change of pace to explore something new again after learning all there is to know about baseball, basketball, and football. I imagine there are British fans of the NFL who feel the same way.

That sense of newness is the driving force behind Bloody Confused, by Chuck Culpepper. Where Michael Agovino latched onto soccer in a fit of adolescent curiosity, Culpepper was a veteran of American sports reporting before soccer and England caught his eye. As a reporter, he had grown tired with American sports, filled as they are with flaws and cliches. It’s a problem he describes as “common sportswriter malaise.” While he came to find that English soccer has plenty of flaws and cliches, he found the learning process refreshing.

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XI: The Weekend of September 21st

-Both sides left a little disappointed when Manchester City drew 1-1 with Chelsea on Sunday. Everyone, that is, except the neutral viewers. The home side will regret not getting all three points over the title challengers, while Jose Mourinho and Chelsea will be upset that they let a 1-0 lead slip with City down to ten men. Frank Lampard scored the equalizer for City against his former club, after coming on to applause from both sets of supporters. He refused to celebrate it, and even seemed reluctant to discuss it after the game.

-Manchester United appeared to be in the same form that saw them defeat QPR the week before. They led 3-1 at King Power Stadium against Leicester City, thanks in part to a preposterous chip from Angel di Maria. But a questionable penalty cut their lead in half, and the Red Devils proceeded to melt down. Leicester scored three more times, winning 5-3. United supporters will be justifiably upset with Mark Clattenburg, but there are causes for concern with a back line that prominently features Jonny Evans. And that is not news.

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Soccer on US TV 9/19-9/21

Friday, September 19th

10:00 PM: Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids, NBCSN

RSL has already won the first two matches between these two rivals, clinching the Rocky Mountain Cup for 2014. But there is a lot at stake here nonetheless. RSL currently leads FC Dallas by a single point as they hope to avoid a one-game play-in match. Colorado, meanwhile, trails the final playoff spot in the west by six points with six matches remaining. A loss here might just kill off their hopes.

10:30 PM: Tijuana vs. Santos, ESPN Deportes (Spanish)

10:30 PM: Morelia vs. Pumas, Azteca America (Spanish)

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Home Field

“The game floats on an ocean of nostalgia, sentimentality, tradition and myth in which its historicity is constantly invoked and celebrated.” – David Winner, Those Feet
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photo credit: laurencehorton via photopin cc

There are very few soccer stadiums in this country that have serious history. The vast majority of MLS teams play in stadiums built since the league emerged in the late 1990s. Both venues hosted teams in the original NASL. Providence Park was the site of Pele’s last official game, and RFK has hosted the USMNT more often than any other stadium.

England, as described by Winner above, has more history than it knows what to do with. Several clubs still play in the same stadiums as they did in the 19th century. Anfield, White Hart Lane, St. James’ Park: these are historic venues where generations of fans have come to support their teams. Fathers take their sons to the same ground their fathers took them to. And of course they look vastly different now, filled with seats instead of terraces, luxury boxes inserted where possible, but the ghosts of years past, and the stories are still there.  But just as DC United want out of RFK, so too do English clubs pine for new stadiums.

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XI: The Weekend of September 14th

-If you slept in, you missed the best Premier League game of the weekend. Arsenal and Manchester City played to a 2-2 draw at the Emirates. Arsenal’s early control of the game wasn’t rewarded, and they went into halftime trailing 1-0. But the Gunners came back strong in the second half, taking the lead with goals from Jack Wilshire and Alexis Sanchez. City equalized on a Martin Demichelis header, and had multiple chances to take the three points late.

-Liverpool stumbled against Aston Villa, who surprisingly find themselves in second after four weeks. Gabby Agbonlahor scored in the 9th minute, and that proved to be enough. Liverpool found it difficult to break down a staunch Villa defense, and rarely challenged American keeper Brad Guzan. Daniel Sturridge did not play, resting in advance of Liverpool’s Tuesday return to Champions League action. Perhaps his absence was telling.

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