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EPL on FOX
If you tuned into FOX last Sunday morning for the first EPL match broadcasted live on network television, you were one of about 1.3 million viewers to see Arsenal lose to Manchester United. Though the numbers fell well short of the 2.0 million estimate that some analyst were hoping for, the results was still very good for soccer on network television especially without an NFL game immediately following on the same channel. Steven Goff, Soccer Insider for the Washington Post, explained the ratings in a tweet saying "keep in mind no one is watching TV on a Sunday morning except soccer and Meet the Press fans." While we take exception to Meet the Press reference (we follow This Week on ABC instead), Mr. Goff does have a point. Take into consideration that several markets including the soccer hot bed of Milwaukee chose to stick with their standard Sunday morning infomercials in lieu of showing the live broadcast. On a typical Saturday or Sunday morning, FoxSoccer will typically draw in the neighborhood of 300k to 400k viewers for a match between the big four clubs. Frankly, FOX knew they would maintain that audience and bring in several hundred thousand more viewers by putting it on network television. In comparison, the NFL matches later that day drew roughly 40 million viewers each, but I'm sure you could have guessed that. So why did FOX decide to show the match on their network instead of FoxSoccer? Forbes magazine had a great article earlier this week about FOX's push into soccer in America and worldwide. A few months ago it was announced that FOX had beat out NBC and ESPN for the right to host the World Cup and all men's and women's national team matches 2015 to 2022. A bit of a coup considering ESPN will have held the rights for almost 20 years when they finish up with the 2014 World Cup. Shortly before that, ESPN and FOX lost out to NBC for the rights to broadcast MLS starting in 2012; NBC changing Versus into NBC Sports Network where most of the MLS matches will be shown. The next big battle ground is the 3-year television rights for the EPL which will be negotiated this spring for the 2013/14 through 2015/16 seasons with expectations of bringing in over $3B worldwide. ESPN is holding on by a thread to any presence in soccer in the American sports television landscape. So naturally you would think that ESPN would go all-in on the EPL broadcast rights in an attempt to stay relevant to soccer fans. ESPN's 1 or 2 matches a week now are only the result of a contract buy-out they got "on the cheap" from Setanta going bankrupt. In all honesty, the days of Ian Darke and Steve McManaman on ESPN will likely be coming to an end in the spring of 2013, but just like Rob Stone moved from ESPN to FOX expect a similar transition for commentators to the new leader in soccer broadcasting. It will be interesting to see the result of the EPL negotiations, but regardless of the results FOX will ended up as the new leader in soccer broadcasting in America... if they aren't already!
The Yanks are Coming
If you happen to have today off, or enjoy ducking out of work early, make sure to tune in (or DVR) FoxSoccer at 3pm EST today for the 4th Round FA Cup match between Everton and Fulham. FoxSoccer jumped through hoops to get rights from SKY Sports to be able to broadcast the match live showing the first rematch of Landon Donovan v Clint Dempsey (Hastag is #LDvCD) since 2006. In all honesty shouldn't it be the rematch of Tim Howard v Clint Dempsey, because Donovan might not even start for Everton? Regardless of how you look at it, the presence of American players in the EPL continues to grow. It has almost been a given that at least one US goalkeeper would be starting for one of the 20 teams, dating all the way back to the days of Kasey Keller. As of right now Tim Howard (Everton), Brad Friedel (Tottenham), and Brad Guzan (Aston Villa) make up the triple-threat of American starting goalkeepers this season, not to mention Howard's back-up at Everton is Marcus Hahnemann. Donovan is on-loan for 8 weeks to Everton from the LA Galaxy, and although the Toffees would love for him to make a permanent move, I think he is in LA to stay. The latest addition to the EPL ranks is defender Tim Ream who signed with the Bolton Wanderers and will pair up with a Stuart Holden who is still recovering from knee surgery last season. Then there is Zak Whitbread, defender for Norwich City, who was born in Houston, lived in Singapore, but is now getting noticed as a potential Center Back for the USMNT. But of course, the player at the front of the American invasion is the aforementioned Clint Dempsey who holds the record for most goals scored by an American all time and in a season in the EPL. He is Fulham's primary offensive weapon this season and his success with the Cottagers has made him a potential transfer target for some of the bigger, richer clubs in England. The bottom line is that having more Americans in the EPL is good for the sport in this country especially for the broadcasting of matches as even the casual fan would enjoy seeing faces they recognize from those 4 weeks every 4 years that America becomes a soccer nation.
Lastly on this Friday we highlight the US Women's National team who take on Costa Rica in Vancouver tonight at 8pm (Universal Sports if you get that channel) for a space in the 2012 Olympics. The USWMT is coming off of nail-biting matches where they beat the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Mexico a combined 31-0. Sure the US women are one of the best teams in the world, but that bitter taste of losing in the World Cup final last summer still lingers and the ladies have a point to prove. The men's national team is suffering from a transition problem of bringing in new blood to take over for the older work-horses of the team (Donovan, Dempsey, Boca); not the case with the Women's team. Although Abby Wambach will likely play until she is 50, the transition to the new forwards is well underway with Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux joining Lauren Cheney on the front line. The same holds true right through the midefield and backline, but the exception is at goalkeeper. Hope Solo is 30 years old and although she will likely play for another 6 years without any concerns, the women's team needs to get a younger back-up ready in the wings to take over. Regardless, the women are back to their winning form and with a victory tonight they will seal their place in the Olympic tourney later this summer in London; we wish them well!