During the 2006/2007 season, the average UK TV audience for a Premier League match was 1.18 million, according to the industry newsletter TV Sports Markets.
This compares with an average US TV audience of approximately 300,000 people watching a Premier League match on Fox Soccer Channel.
While there’s a significant gap between the two numbers, it isn’t inconceivable that the United States may surpass the UK in the number of viewers watching Premier League matches. Of course, the US population is far greater than the UK (300 million compared to 60 million). But the groundswell of interest in the US for the English Premier League is taking many, myself included, by surprise.
When the TV rights for the Premier League next become available for bidding — in a few years time — it’ll be interesting to see if ESPN becomes involved in the negotiations. Despite the success of Fox Soccer Channel, it would take an ESPN to bring the game to the masses and to push the TV audience figures to over the 1.18 million mark such as in the UK.
An ideal situation would be to have ESPN, Fox Soccer Channel and Setanta Sports sharing the broadcasts of the games, so ESPN could show live matches during low TV rating hours (early morning Saturday kickoffs, for example), while Fox and Setanta would continue to share the rest of the spoils. Impossible you say? I think not.
However, of most importance is the entertainment level on the pitch. As long as we can continue to see so many exciting matches throughout the season, the league will sell itself in America. Already this season, we’ve seen enthralling encounters between Fulham and Manchester City, Man United and Chelsea, Fulham and Spurs, Liverpool and Chelsea, Portsmouth v Bolton, Spurs against Arsenal, and many more.
Let’s just hope we don’t see the dark period of English football that we encountered last Autumn where the quality of football was dismal. This time around, I don’t see it happening. With Chelsea faltering, Liverpool sputtering and Arsenal flying, Man United has a fight to try to retain the Premier League trophy. And with the emergence of Man City and Aston Villa as new hopes of beating some of the top four teams (as they’ve proven already), right now everything is on target to make this one of the more interesting seasons in recent memory.