Soccer Business Bits: Soccer on TV

us-soccerThere are a couple of interesting TV notes surrounding US soccer this week.  The most significant is the announcement that the English rights to the USA/Mexico World Cup qualifier belong to……Telemundo.  According to Mr. Goff, Telemundo will show the game in Spanish on its main channel and in English on “mun2” a station available in only 30 million households.  Telemundo is owned by NBC.  According to Goff, ESPN attmpted to purchase the game from Telemundo, but the rights were not for sale.  Given the strange start time (4:00 p.m. ET) for the midweek game, the match will likely not be a ratings dynamo.  Yet, the lack of availability in English will dramatically impact the ability of the work crowd to catch the game at a bar and of the college/school crowd to watch the game at home.  This is the biggest World Cup qualifier in years, and Telemundo’s power play will likely deny millions of American sports fans the opportunity to watch the game.

In other TV news, FSC landed the big match (for viewership purposes) of the MLS season to date.  Beckham’s Thursday night match in NY and return to MLS should be a ratings draw in prime time for the soccer network.  FSC has done a good job of promoting the game during the Gold Cup broadcasts.  At the same time, ESPN2 definitely drew the short straw for the week (yet a better game), with a 1:00 ET Saturday Toronto/Houston match.  The Toronto game is probably the better match-up, but the Galaxy contest is the sexier game.  Saturday times were not historically successful for ESPN, and a 10:00 a.m. Pacific start time (even in Toronto) will probably continue that trend.

Finally, the semi-finals of SuperLiga are upon us, with a two match doubleheader at Gillette on Wednesday night.  The game promises to be lightly attended (although the Revs are including this in their season ticket package).   All SuperLiga games are televised on Telefutura, yet the semi-finals have also been picked up by English language TV in New England on Comcast SportsNet.  The game will be shown in Mass, Conn. and Rhode Island using the Revs usually play-by-play man Brad Feldman.  superliga

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Superliga 2009: Fierce International Competition or Big Waste of Time?

superligaWe are just days away from the third iteration of the now annual Superliga tournament.  The 8 team event features 4 teams from MLS and 4 teams from Mexico’s Primera Division.  Placed into groups of four (consisting of two MLS teams and two Mexican teams), the teams play one game against each team in their group before a semi-final and final.  The New England Revolution are the defending champions after a penalty kick victory over Houston last year in an all MLS final.

Last year the event tried to build off the success of year one, when David Beckham’s Los Angeles Galaxy lost in penalty kicks to Mexican champion Pachuca and Superliga 2008 drew consistently good television ratings, surpassing local Major League Baseball numbers.  All matches will  be televised in the United States on the Telefutura Network and by Televisa and TV Azteca in Mexico; english language broadcasts are carried by Fox Sports Canada.

In addition to declaring a US/Mexican champion, Superliga provides a unique marketing opportunity for both MLS and its Mexican counterpart.  The Mexican teams get an opportunity to play meaningful games in the U.S. before Mexican ex-pats, while MLS gets to showcase its teams before a Latino fan-base still warming to American Soccer.  Last year the event was somewhat marred by tension between the MLS Players Union and the League.  The union announced that the $1,000,000 championship bonus – in a league where the salary cap does not exceed $3,000,000 – was a bit of mirage.  As a result, there was a bit of a protest when the Revs won the trophy.

Attendance at the 2008 version dipped a bit and this year the big time Mexican clubs will be absent with no Chivas, America or Pachuca involved.  Chivas and America are the teams with the biggest followings in the States, and thus attendance may suffer this year as well.  However, with the Chicago Fire involved, it does mean that Blanco will be part of the proceedings.  Blanco is always a big draw in the Mexican community.  Add in a Chivas USA/Chicago Fire game in Los Angeles and Group A may have some significant draws at the gate. The tournament will feature a couple of doubleheaders and a game in St. Louis (KC match).

Coming mid-season, the event is a bit controversial as it forces teams to take a break from League play.  MLS teams are then forced to make up games with some additional mid-week games during the rest of the season.  In addition, SuperLiga does detract from the Champions League that also pits teams from MLS, Mexico and other CONCACAF countries.  However, as a business model, SuperLiga is a fantastic idea.  We have repeatedly discussed how there are enumerable soccer fans in the United States, many of whom do not pay attention to MLS.  Many of these fans are far more interested in Mexican Soccer and Superliga does serve as an entre to MLS.  Ultimately, we view the tournament as neither a fierce competition or a waste of time, but a golden business opportunity.  Whether that is a proper use of the teams’ time is a different issue