Let’s never do that again.
For about 80 minutes yesterday, the USMNT made their supporters fret, sweat, and bite their nails. It is, bar none, the most anxiety I’ve ever felt during a soccer match. And the first half was tame. It wasn’t until, in the span of three minutes, Thomas Muller and Asamoah Gyan scored, that the US was in any real danger. One more goal, at that stage, would have sent the Yanks back home.When safety finally arrived, it wasn’t an American goal but a Portuguese one. Cristiano Ronaldo’s rebound goal gave Portugal a 2-1 lead and eased American fears of Ghana and tiebreakers.
American soccer culture is a queer blend of habits aped from Europe and Latin America that, somehow, wants nothing more than to be considered authentic. There’s a team in Utah with a name ripped from Spain, and supporters’ groups across the country singing the same English songs. Leagues in other countries have better television ratings than our own. Little of it is uniquely American; we even borrow British grammatical practices when talking about the sport.
In that context, enter Gus Johnson.
Liga MX, not the Premier League, is the most watched soccer league in the United States | photo credit: rapapu via photopin cc
On Saturday, Atletico Madrid clinched the Spanish title with a draw in their final game against Barcelona. The next day, the Spanish relegation battle came to an end, with Real Valladoid and Osasuna going down thanks to final day results. On Sunday night, the Mexican league saw its two-legged final decided in extra time, as Leon added a spring title to their fall title.
La Liga is perhaps the best soccer league in the world. Liga MX is the most watched soccer league in the US. But neither is easily found on English-language television in this country. As the powers that be buy up rights in the growing soccer market, these two leagues represent perhaps the most significant unclaimed territory.
Chelsea didn’t win the title, but they were the most watched club on American TV | photo credit: proforged via photopin cc
In their first season covering the league, NBC Sports Network aired 160 Premier League games, with another few dozen games being shown on other NBC channels. Of the NBCSN games, the Premier League averaged 395,000 viewers per game. This is a massive increase over last season when games were on ESPN/2 and Fox Soccer. The Premier League averaged just 220,000 viewers per game in 2012-13, with similar viewership in 2011-12. For comparison, Major League Soccer’s first seven games on NBCSN this season have averaged 216,000 viewers. About half of these matches have had the benefit of being preceded by Premier League coverage.
The new MLS TV contracts with ESPN, Fox, and Univision, are unmitigated good news for the league and its fans. MLS comes out of this deal looking like bandits. Some 18 months after NBC paid $83 million a year for the Premier League, MLS got $90 million a year for its less-popular league (and the USMNT). They got the fixed weekly television slots they’ve long been looking for. They got Univision to provide English audio. They got online streaming from ESPN. You could have made a wish list for the league before this deal and not created a set-up so rosy for the league.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid will face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final | photo credit: Jan S0L0 via photopin cc
Fox Sports 1 showed 28 UEFA Champions League matches this past season, with an average viewership of 282,000. This is almost certainly a significant increase compared to 2012-13, when Champions League matches were shown mostly on Fox Soccer. Alas, numbers for Fox Soccer are difficult to find. For comparison, NBCSN’s coverage of the English Premier League has averaged 397,000 viewers through its first 152 matches. 23 Champions League matches on Fox Sports 2 drew an average audience of 56,000 viewers.