ESPN under the stewardship of George Bodenheimer has shown more of an interest in Soccer than ever before. Bodenheimer who directs sports for ABC, and all the ESPN family of networks has admitted he’s the latest in the long line of TV executives who believes soccer can work in the American market. ESPN’s increased commitment to soccer particularly the American game has been welcome, but still some upgrades need to be made for ESPN to reach its full market potential with the game.
Give MLS Some Weekly Exposure with a Highlights Show
Perhaps Rob Stone or Alan Hopkins (or both) could host a weekly late night wrap up show on ESPN2 based on the Baseball Tonight model. Eric Wynalda sitting in studio giving his opinion on the goings on in the league would be helpful as well.
- Better Publicize MLS Match-ups on the Network
MLS continues to be the ugly stepchild of ESPN when it comes to promotion during other sporting events. Often times the announcers for other events when asked to promote an MLS or US Soccer telecast giggle and trip over their words and show a condescending nature that would not be tolerated towards any other sporting property the network broadcasts.
- Place more games on ABC
From 1998 thru 2002 a large number of weekend afternoon MLS and US National Team games ended up on ABC. At the time ABC had the contract to show many PGA Tour events and showed more College Basketball games than currently. (The College Basketball games on ABC have a complicated rights lineage. Basically ABC buys the rights to ACC games from Raycom a syndication service based in Charlotte who owns network TV rights to the ACC, America’s premier Basketball leagues and subleases the rights to other entities. ABC also buys Big 12 and Pac 10 rights from local syndicators. Basically the point is ABC doesn’t own the rights to any of the College Basketball they show) Yet, ABC has all but eliminated weekend afternoon soccer telecasts at a time when the ESPN family of networks as a whole is more committed than ever to promoting the game. Currently ABC airs only one golf event each year (The British Open for which the contract expires in 2009 and it is expected ABC/ESPN will not bid on its renewal) and shows College Basketball only in the months of January and February.
- Upgrade knowledge of the league and soccer in general with regular ESPN studio hosts
Dave O’Brien apparently got the World Cup lead announcing gig because he was the only mainstream sports announcer at ESPN who expressed any interest in the game. However, ESPN requires its Sports Center and ESPNews hosts to have some sort of passing knowledge of all the sports on the network except for Soccer. It is embarrassing when the hosts of the news shows on the network butcher the name of Chivas USA and of several players. Were they making the same mistakes in delivering hockey news, a sport which ESPN dumped because of low ratings, and a sport with far less popular support in today’s American landscape than Soccer they’d probably be out of a job.
- Take a page from FSC regarding pre-game shows
When ESPN has a lead in show for its coverage of MLS they usually waste the opportunity. Rob Stone and Allan Hopkins are two of the most knowledgeable US specific soccer people in the country. Yet their talents seem to be wasted with meaningless banter and blatant hype around the upcoming game. FSC on the other hand properly employs Todd Grisham and Christian Miles to bring us up to speed on late developments and prepare the audience for the upcoming match. FSC has a simpler and much more effective approach.