March 20, 2005

Can America support two soccer channels?: soccer channels in the USA

The answer: yes, Virginia, the Great Satan of Iran can certainly support two cable networks devoted to "the beautiful game"! Memo to all those sports writers who continue to knock soccer: those kids of the soccer moms that helped Bill Clinton win re-election in 1996? Remember them? Well, its 2005, and a lot of them have grown up and are playing soccer in high school and college these days. The sport is booming across America, from recreational leagues for kids and adults to more and more high schools adding it to their interscholastic athletics program. Heck, even my alma mater has had boys and girls’ soccer teams for a few years now! So they have to learn the beautiful game from somewhere, and watching the best in the world play on the telly is the best way to see how it's done. It used to be that you might see the occasional soccer match on ESPN and Fox Sports Net (or it's precursor, Prime Sports), but those would usually be either college games or the A-League. Then the 1994 World Cup came along and things started to change. At first, it didn't seem like it did, as the original plan to start up Major League Soccer in 1995 fell through, but the league did get started the following year, and, despite plenty of bumps in the road (which included the folding of the Tampa Bay and Miami franchises), the league is as strong as ever. In the wake of the Super Bowl, we saw Fox Sports World become Fox Soccer Channel, with all new graphics and music and such. Basically, it was inevitable as their programming was heavily dominated by the world's most popular sport to begin with, but this change heralded a full-blown assault in making FSC not only survive, but succeed. Fox Soccer Channel mainly carries the European leagues here in the States, with the English Premier League being the backbone of the channel. While the EPL may dominate the channel, the French Ligue 1 and the German Bundesliga do get plenty of exposure on the channel. Throw in the Argentine league competition, and you have a pretty sweet lineup already. FSC also has some MLS matches on its dance card, and they'll also be airing some minor league soccer games as well as original programming. In the works is a weekly program devoted to the soccer scene in the United States. However, arising to meet the challenge of FSC is GOL TV, the channel with is actually two channels (one Spanish and one English). It debuted towards the end of last month on DirecTV and has been giving FSC a run for its money. Now, the backbone of the channel is its reach into the ever-growing Hispanic community in the States, but the English channel will be getting plenty of non-Latinos and latinas to watch the leagues in South America as well as the Spanish La Liga, Italy's Seria A, and Brazilian league competitions. Granted, the club soccer in Guatemala, Peru, and Columbia, as well as the other countries in South America (save for Brazil) don't make up for the level of competition you can see in Spain and Italy, but the passion and level of play of the game in those leagues are nothing to sniff derisively at. GOL TV also has the advantage of having the UEFA Cup competition (think the NIT of European soccer with the Champions League being the Big Dance of March Madness), while FSC does have most of the English FA Cup matches. It should be interesting to see the bidding war that would emerge should ESPN decide to stop carrying the Champions League, because both channels would love to provide much better coverage than the so-called "worldwide leader in sports" provides of Europe's premier soccer competition. On top of all this, word has it that Setanta, a company that operates sports channels overseas as well as a pub channel carrying soccer and rugby to pubs and bars here in the States, may be getting ready to launch its own international sports channel here in the States. They have the rights to England's Championship League (think Triple A baseball to the Premier Leagues being the major leagues) as well as England's Carling Cup and Scottish League matches, as well as Six Nations Rugby and other sports. Don't be surprised if Setanta rolls out a channel onto the satellite television lineups in the near future, especially now that DirecTV and Dish Network are making headway in their fight with cable. And then there is always ESPN to get into the mix, but this is a long shot at best. They recently launched ESPN U, a college sports channel that will help the boys (and girls) in Bristol, Connecticut carry even more college games than they already do. They own the rights to the UEFA champions league, and also cover a variety of international sports on their overseas channels already, so acquiring enough rights to broadcast competitions here in the states to make a channel worthwhile should not be a problem. But don't look for "ESPN International" or "ESPN World" anytime soon. My best guess for ESPN's next channel will be EXPN, a channel devoted to extreme sports (especially the X Games) to compete with Fox Sports' Fuel extreme sports channel. So for all the soccer lovers out here in America, whether you be a casual fan like me, or a die-hard fan, things have never been better for fans of the beautiful game, and it seems like the best is yet to come!

posted by jasonbondshow to at 09:31 AM - 0 comments

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