Every week, writers from the popular website Soccer News Net will contribute exclusive content for NASL.com, discussing the current soccer news and looking back at the history of the game in the United States. To kick off the partnership, Executive Editor of Soccer News Net Charles Cuttone looks at the recent shift in soccer TV coverage on American shores.
The Changing Landscape Of Soccer On TV
By Charles Cuttone
If you are a soccer fan, it's hard to imagine that you would not know that NBC has made a major commitment to carrying English Premier League games across all of its platforms.
The network has made a major marketing splash, not only on television, but in New York City, with wraparound ads on subway cars and a huge billboard in Times Square.
The three-year, $250 million agreement made NBCUniversal the exclusive English- and Spanish-language media rights holder to all EPL matches across all media platforms and devices in the United States. All 380 games of the 2013-14 season will be carried live on NBC Sports Group’s television and digital properties as well as other NBCUniversal channels. NBC Sports Group’s schedule includes live matches on NBC, NBC Sports Network, Telemundo, Mun2, the Premier League Extra Time package of overflow television channels, the NBC Sports Live Extra website and app, and other NBCUniversal channels including CNBC and USA.
The major impact for the sport is that these deals don’t relegate soccer to cable-only or sports tier channels, but include major exposure on network television.
“What NBC is doing with the EPL is treating it as a major sport,” said Doug Jacobs, President of Integrated Sports Media, a New Jersey-based television production firm that has produced numerous soccer broadcasts. “They are treating it the same as they would the NFL, MLB or NHL.”
But NBC’s big push with English soccer comes at a time of transition for soccer broadcasting in the United States. With the launch of Fox’s new national cable channel, Fox Sports 1, the company is phasing out Fox Soccer Channel, its 24/7 network that has been a haven for soccer-starved fans.
“Fox Sports 1 is going to have soccer as a big part of the channel,” said Jacobs. “In some ways, they will have more exposure for soccer. For instance FS1 is showing a prime time CONCACAF Champions League game.”
Jacobs says the big difference is in the tier the two channels are available on.
“Fox Soccer was run as a specialty channel,” Jacobs said. “I don’t think there’s a negative to losing FSC.”
FSC hit its nadir being available in 52.98 million homes. At its launch, the new Fox Sports 1 is already in 90 million homes, the largest launch ever for a new cable network. With Fox winning the bid for the next two World Cups, soccer certainly will be a major part of its programming, along with Champions League games.
"I don't see it as a bad thing," said John Guppy, President of GiltEdge Soccer Marketing, of losing Fox Soccer. "It's the evolution of soccer. We've gone from being on a niche channel to being integrated into the mainstream. It’s a sign of growth for the sport."
Just the move to a wider distribution platform can have a major impact on viewership. The last year FSC held MLS rights, it averaged 71,000 viewers for 29 games. The following year (2102) on NBC Sports, 40 MLS games averaged 119,000 viewers. NBC garnered a 0.8 rating for its opening Saturday of EPL coverage, up from a 0.2 on Fox Soccer last year.
But where the loss of FSC is likely to have an impact is on the second-tier properties that otherwise would not have been televised that found a home on the soccer niche.
Guppy says because lower-level matches were on a soccer channel, they were probably viewed accidently by many who would not otherwise go looking. "I would go home and pop on channel 619 (on DirecTV) and find those events," he said.
"There is some challenge for those second-tier properties. The onus is on them to drive people to care."
Fox says it will continue to program Fox Soccer Plus, but that channel has an even smaller distribution footprint than that of Fox Soccer. The FoxSoccer2go mobile app also will live on, providing coverage of all the properties Fox currently has rights to.
Both Fox and ESPN are also doing daily soccer shows, and beIN Sport has jumped in as a major player in acquiring television rights, gobbling up not only most of the U.S. National Team’s away-game World Cup qualifiers, but also rights for LaLiga, Serie A and Ligue One.
One thing for certain, soccer fans have never had so much programming to chose from on so many different platforms.
Charles Cuttone is Executive Editor of Soccer News Net, whose web sites include BigAppleSoccer.com, DCSoccerNews.com and SunshineSoccerNews.com. Follow him on twitter @ccsports
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