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How ESPN Would Change The Face of Premier League Coverage On U.S. TV

espn logo How ESPN Would Change The Face of Premier League Coverage On U.S. TVImagine it’s Saturday, August 15 2009. This is not just any Saturday, though. It’s the kickoff of the 2009/2010 Premier League season. Leeds United has been promoted back to the big league. Man United is hoping to win their fourth EPL title in a row, and Arsenal will play their first new season without Arsene Wenger in charge. A big weekend of soccer awaits.

Looking at the TV guide (aka crystal ball) for that opening weekend, here’s the schedule for TV viewers in the United States (all times Eastern):

7:45am: Leeds v Chelsea (ESPN3) [High Definition]
10am: Crystal Palace v Liverpool (ESPN3)
10am: West Ham United v Newcastle United (Setanta Sports)
10am: Queens Park Rangers v Middlesbrough (Setanta Xtra)
10am: Manchester City v Bolton Wanderers (Fox Soccer Channel)
12:15pm: Fulham v Everton (ESPN3)

8:30am: West Bromwich Albion v Wigan (Setanta Sports)
10am: Blackburn v Portsmouth (Fox Soccer Channel)
11am: Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur (ESPN3) [High Definition]

3pm: Aston Villa v Arsenal (ESPN3) [High Definition]

It’s a dream come true for Premier League fans in the U.S. of A. With ESPN’s penetration into the homes via cable and satellite, ESPN3 (formerly ESPN Classic) would bring the EPL to the masses with high production values, some of the games in HD and the best picks of the games every weekend. ESPN would sublicense the TV rights for the other matches to Setanta and Fox Soccer Channel. The three networks working together will be able to show every single Premier League match live.

The dream of watching Premiership soccer on ESPN is not that far off from reality. According to soccer writer Ives Galarcep today, “The word I just got from a source at ESPN is that ESPN is definitely interested and the feeling around the network is that a large bid is coming because ESPN has big plans for expanding ESPN Classic into potentially an ESPN3, with the English Premier League as one of the station’s marquee draws. That whole scenario may wind up being wishful thinking but what is clear is tht ESPN is interested in the EPL rights.”

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About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013.
View all posts by Christopher Harris →

38 Responses to How ESPN Would Change The Face of Premier League Coverage On U.S. TV

  1. Ryan says:

    That would be sweet, I think the ratings would be better than ESPN would expect as well, even on Sundays the games get over before the NFL starts, so people can watch the best of both worlds.

  2. T says:

    Do it! Perhaps it is a bit far-fetched at this point, but I do love the way ESPN does “soccer.”

  3. Anonymous says:

    Ives has a very poor track record for projecting things not New York related.

    I would not put much stock in anything he discusses.

  4. Lonnie says:

    If we’re dreaming here…then why not have Bolton out of the PL at this point and have Nottingham Forest replace them :)

  5. Anonymous says:



    Imagine it’s Saturday, August 15 2009. This is not just any Saturday, though. It’s the kickoff of the 2009/2010 Premier League season. Leeds United has been promoted back to the big league. Manchester United are playing their first match after selling Ronaldo to Real Madrid. The site formerly known as doesnt exist anymore. The Gaffer, the dodgy crystal meth addict, imagining he’s watching television, is just staring out the window from his room at a drug addiction treatment center.


  6. betsy's bolton bum baster says:

    Okay I understand projecting a potential ESPN broadcast of the EPL but why are you saying that Wenger will quit/resign and Leeds will be back? Kind of pointless.

    Anyway, I think the idea would be FABULOUS! They probably won’t even need to have an ESPN3 because there are no sports locally that begin before noon in the States. Most morning programming is foreign sports or golf. It could be a bit crowded though so then I would understand an “ESPN3″ or “ESPN World”, etc. It would be grand!!

  7. eplnfl says:

    The fantasy stuff aside ,ESPN has to be looking at the EPL big time. Early kickoffs on the weekends and the Monday night games are perfect for their schedule. No other live American sport is taking place at those times, and if sports broadcasting is drawing a crowd then ESPN wants to be their.

    I have been very happy with the ESPN productions for Thursday night MLS games. It’s a quality broadcast with a style and substance that appeals to the American audience. Here is a key factor for the quality of the broadcast for ESPN, have your announcers in the stadium and not in a studio. Part of the feel of the game is lost otherwise. That has been the problem over the years with it’s Champion League coverage. A studio voice can not give you the feel to the crowd, the players, or the town.

    So I am looking forward to 2009 and also expect a HD broadcast!

  8. Simon Burke says:

    Wouldnt MLS complain bitterly though? Not sure its good for the American league….

    Also I cant stand ESPN coverage – i like a few of the commentators, Mike Hill and TOmmy Smyth will do (Hill carrys it though) but I cant be dealing with Eric Wynaldo and Juie Fowdy and that hateful Italian fella who detests Wynalso, Georgio Canales or something…

    Those folks all depress me and must be kept far away from the coverage – their half time coverage of the CL is dire too – 4 talking heads spouting a line each in turn between commercial breaks….

    Also – the high def issue is a problem as the originating feed isnt in high def I gather from Sky..

  9. eplnfl says:

    ESPN may insist on a HD feed. All the better for us Yanks!

    As to the MLS, the more the American public is exposed to good soccer the better for the domestic league and the USMNT. Interest will grow and demand for better players locally will grow. The MLS season is for the most part in the English off season and ESPN only shows a Thursday night US prime time game currently which does not conflict. And if were talking about ESPN3 there is room for everybody, including the Italian and Spanish leagues.

  10. PZ says:

    I think the only really far fetched part of the piece was Leeds making it back to the Premiership as they’ll still be in League 1 next season.

    I read something a couple months ago (wish I could find it now) that ESPN were looking to buy Setanta. Not sure where that whole thing is now…haven’t seen anything.

    Anyone know how long the current broadcast rights contact for North America is for? I seem to recall one was recently signed and in effect for 2 or 3 years. It wasn’t that long ago that Fox was buying it weeks before the start of the season and then reselling matches to Setanta. However, now with Setanta having a full-time channel (not just PPV) there was a recent bidding war…well more than one bidder.

  11. The Gaffer says:


    Good heavens. Someone seems a bit defensive and has a severe lack of humor.

    It’s a bloody joke. I’m not making predictions. I’m just trying to paint a picture. Arsene Wenger is a brilliant manager, but it doesn’t mean he’s going to be at Arsenal forever.

    Not sure why you’ve got your knickers in a twist. I don’t plagiarize. Often I do my own interviews with people to get the news direct from the source (such as Setanta Sports and Fox Soccer), so if you think I plagiarize, prove it — otherwise don’t make accusations when you have no evidence.

    If I do use sources for my articles, I attribute them to the source nine times out of ten (take the pictures of the football shirts, for example).

    Lastly, I don’t claim EPL Talk to be the best in the world, so stop making stuff up.


    The Gaffer

  12. anon says:

    a horrible black spot in Football should ESPN purchase the rights to broadcast and it’ll pave the way to destruction of the Premier League.

  13. Richard says:

    I hope that EPL stays with Fox Soccer Channel and they expand their coverage so they get the best games. I think it’ll be bit unfair that ESPN would ‘steal’ the EPL TV coverage after FSC took the gamble and put the EPL live with top notch production in America. After seeing what ESPN did with ESPN Classic Channel (they pretty much killed it), i have my doubts that the EPL coverage would improve on ESPN. I’m afraid they would put their own announcers instead of getting the feed of the English Announcers and they’ll probably put that annoying ticker box at the bottom of the screen.

    I hope that FSC expands their coverage possibly putting some games on FSN too and re-negotiate the deal with Setanta NA so they would get first choice of games in america

  14. The Gaffer says:


    I can't see Fox Soccer Channel being able to outbid ESPN for the TV rights, which will be up for bidding before the 2009/2010 season. The rights are getting more and more expensive. If anything, I see Fox having less Premier League coverage in the future rather than more. And I don't see them taking Prem games off Setanta and putting them on FSC. This is purely conjecture, so I may be wrong.

    The Gaffer

  15. The Gaffer says:


    I can’t see Fox Soccer Channel being able to outbid ESPN for the TV rights, which will be up for bidding before the 2009/2010 season. The rights are getting more and more expensive. If anything, I see Fox having less Premier League coverage in the future rather than more. And I don’t see them taking Prem games off Setanta and putting them on FSC. This is purely conjecture, so I may be wrong.

    The Gaffer

  16. eplnfl says:

    By all indications, those being the growing commitment to soccer by ESPN, ie: MLS, World Cup, Champions League, USMNT, USWNT, and Euro 2008, and increasing their own productions of those events, a bid for EPL of some sort can be expected. It has always been my opinion that the most logical place for ESPN to start would the EPL Monday night game which fills a hole in the ESPN schedule. Almost no American sport would be played live at that time.

    A second game is a likely if the price is right but it would have to be an early weekend start. A lunchtime UK start again does not conflict with
    any American sports event. So, instead of repeats of sports center at 6:00am CST in Chicago on a Sunday morning, why not a EPL game, but the audience will be limited at that time so the cost for ESPN has to be right.

    FSC and Setanta will be left to carry the centerpiece games of the day. So, things get only better!

  17. Richard says:

    Gaffer, Rupurt Murdoch owns FSC and Skysports so I can’t see this being ESPN the giant taking EPL from FSC on a bidding battle without a fight. Since my love of the EPL came from watching FSC in 2006 after the WC- I would like FSC continue with its coverage of the EPL although I’m a bit disapointed that the pick of the best games has fallen from FSC this year. Why did FSC drop showing the monday afternoon game?

    For those who think EPL would improve on the ESPN3 – look at what ESPN did with ESPN Classic Channel. ESPN bought the Sports Classic Channel about 10 years ago – stating that they would improve/expand the Classic Channel with more sporting events in the past (more boxing matches with Muhammed Ali, Michael Jordan games at North Carolina, etc). With so much potential with such a large sport library. ESPN pretty much killed ESPN classic by putting on roller derby and bowling matches. ESPN has stopped all new funding and new shows on ESPN Classic

    I could see ESPN3 putting on scores of games on the ticker box below for games they’ll show for the first time on tape delay and ESPN3 cutting away from the soccer coverage for ESPN Updates every 10 minutes. Also I imagine ESPN3 would only show matches featuring the Big4 being almost a ManUnited & Chelsea Channel (i’m a tottenham fan) so we won’t be able to see the Portsmouth/Aston Villa, Everton/Man City, Newcastle/Tottenham or even Fulham/ WestHam matches featured much on a ESPN3 channel

    Anyways feel better Gaffer and i hope you start putting on more podcasts in the future. Your interviews are some of the best on the net.

    cheers, richard

  18. The Gaffer says:

    Hi Richard,

    Good responses. I can’t vouch for ESPN, so it’s possible that they could do worse, but the most important thing about that network is the penetration they have in U.S. homes. Setanta fights a constant battle to get on cable systems. With ESPN, the Premier League could be more mainstream overnight.

    Even though Rupert Murdoch owns Sky Sports and Fox Soccer, that doesn’t have any relevance or give him an advantage in the States. When the EPL TV rights are up for bidding in the U.S., the winner is the one who offers the most money.

    Fox Soccer Channel is known for having very tight budgets. With the rising price of Premiership TV rights, the only way they could afford to have them (as well as the other leagues such as Serie A, MLS, etc) is to have sub-license the content to Setanta. That’s a main reason why Setanta picked up Monday’s 3pm ET slot from Fox, I believe.

    Hope that helps.

    The Gaffer

  19. Eric says:

    I don’t know about you, but personally I do not want the House of Mouse’s hands anywhere near the broadcasting rights of the Premiership. Besides, I only think they would do it if it would be promised, and I stress that word, that whatever team they purchase (Please be Derby) would be in the top flight starting that season.

  20. CFTV says:

    I am with the Gaffer in terms of The Premiership getting into a deal with ESPN would help make the league mainstream here in the States. ESPN is it for sports in America. FSC and Setanta do a good job covering the league but they don’t get the eyeballs that ESPN does.

    You watch the Premiership Clubs and people that run the league will really play up the fact they got the league on North America’s biggest sports network if they get on ESPN when the new contract comes up. I have seen some of the coverage from Asia of the Prem on ESPN’s Star Sports and they do a really good job. I have no doubt if they get the league they will do the property right and not try to Americanize it too much but leave it as it is. World Soccer and the Premiership are unique to the American Sports Audience leaving it that way would offer fans something different. I can see Glaizer, Hicks, Gillette, and Lerner really pushing to get the league on ESPN as they understand what ESPN means to sports in America.

  21. olivert says:

    One thing we do know:

    1. FOX Soccer Channel can’t afford to keep EPL by itself.

    2. Setanta is losing a lot of money around the world, including the U.S. and Canada. Those losses can’t go on forever

    3. GolTV is still losing money and can’t really afford EPL on its own.

    That leaves only one company that can afford to blow $30 million a year on U.S. TV rights to EPL: ESPN

    ESPN Classic, which goes to about 60 million U.S. TV homes, gets about $72 million in U.S. cable/satellite TV subscriber fees each year (assuming 10 cents per subscriber per month), roughly the same amount of money FOX Soccer Channel gets with its 30 million U.S. cable/satellite TV subscribers (at 20 cents per subscriber per month).

    The ONLY way the FAPL will be able to squeeze $30 million a year out of the U.S. market is to get ESPN involved, as both FOX Soccer Channel and Setanta have reached their “threshold of pain” and neither can pay much more for EPL.

    With that said, I think John Skipper is completely out of his mind if he were to convert ESPN Classic into “ESPN3″ (now that ESPN won’t buy Setanta and covert Setanta Sports USA into “ESPN World”) and stuff the EPL on “ESPN3″.

    Bottom line: even with the alleged “growth” in audience for EPL in the U.S. in recent years, EPL still draws an 0.2% national household rating (normalized to the national TV household count of 110+ million households) on FOX Soccer Channel, which happens to be the same 0.2% household rating that EPL got on ESPN2 in the 1997-1998 season before FOX outbid ESPN for the product.

    EPL, in my opinion, belongs on a premium subscription service such as Setanta Sports USA, with the exception of one game each week on a digital sports pack channel such as FOX Soccer Channel.

    Notice the EPL broadcast model in Canada: one game each week on The Score (which is the primary rightsholder), one game each week on Rogers Sportsnet, and the other 8 games each week air on Setanta Sports Canada (which is co-owned by Rogers Communications). That model actually makes sense.

  22. olivert says:

    > I have seen some of the coverage from Asia of the Prem on ESPN’s Star Sports and they do a really good job.

    ESPN STAR Sports in Asia, despite the “ESPN” branding, is operated by NewsCorp, not by Disney/ESPN.

    ESPN STAR Sports is a corporate sister of FOX Sports, not a corporate sister of ESPN.

    ESPN Inc. (Disney) does own 50% of the ESPN STAR Sports joint venture, but Disney/ESPN have no day-to-day management responsibilities of ESPN STAR Sports.

  23. CFTV says:

    Just thinking out loud here.

    What are the chances if ESPN does get the Premiership Package and gets the Saturday 12:15pm Eastern Game if they farmed a couple of games a year to ABC? Of course they would pick the most prime game involving 2 of the Big 4 for it to work. I could again see the owners of the Premiership Clubs licking their lips at the idea of getting a couple of the biggest games on Network TV here in the States. During the fall ABC doesn’t pick up Collge Football until 3:30pm. Some ABC Stations do pick up the local syndicated rights to the ACC, SEC, Big East, Big 12, and MAC League Football Games at that time but most fill that period between the end of the network kids shows and the Pre-Game of the College Game with paid programs and syndicated bundles of weekend programs.

    Just throwing that idea out there if ABC does do a good number on todays Netherlands/Russia Game and the Final next weekend.

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  26. michael says:

    i am in college in america and it isn’t feasible to pay the extra money for fox soccer channel. espn has an internet station called espn360 at and it is very convenient as a student. You can watch every game that espn shows online and best of all, its live. the web site also saves the games for about 2 weeks. soccer on demand when ever you want it. i did this for the begining of Euro 08 and UEFA Champions League. Espn with EPL coverage would be like a wet dream that i never woke up from.

  27. Jahman says:

    Tommy Smyth sucks big time!

  28. Matt says:

    You must say ESPN coverage of Champion League is awesome broadcast visually and imagine HD EPL!!! Please take some surveys in terms of opinions ? etc. Placement of team names and score and time don’t take up picture and please streamline tracker @ the bottom of screen! Good luck to ESPN!

  29. Ross says:

    They are only going to broadcast it to prime interest for the World Cup next summer.

    But I won’t complain…it’s better than the bowling replays they usually show before college football. Maybe ESPN will dump some of the rubbish college football they have been showing (Notre Dame vs. Appalachain St., for example).

    Fox Soccer Channel is garbage anyhow, Arsenal plays Chelsea while FSC is showing West Brom vs Sunderland. They don’t deserve the rights anymore; if Americans are going to watch any sports, we want to watch the TOP of the top level. Maybe ESPN’s competition will force their hand into HD, as well.

  30. Ross says:

    I forgot to mention something I think we are all forgetting:

    The ONLY way to grow a sport in the US of A is land a spot on SportCenter. If it doesn’t make Top Plays, EPL will go the way of the dinosaur: violent extinction.

    By paying the (extortionate) $30 million for the rights, ESPN are investing in full coverage of the sport, not just the live stuff we used to get in the 90s. It’s in their best interest to promote the heck out of it, then show highlights and recap later. Win-Win!

  31. Jamie Roddis says:

    Which channels to i have to purchase to watch EPL in US. Last year my wife got me Setanta. However are Setanta not going out of business? Will i have to purchse in ESPN3 instead?

    Im an englishman now living in LA so i NEED my football!
    many thanks


    • The Gaffer says:

      Hi Jamie,

      Setanta US should still be in business this season. But in addition to Setanta, you need to get Fox Soccer Channel which is available on almost every cable and satellite provider.

      ESPN3 doesn’t exist yet :)

      The Gaffer

  32. US EPL FAN says:

    Whoever it is..I need to see the games…

  33. clbuzz says:

    The year’s much-awaited on-ground spectacle, the English Premier League will be aired soon on the sports favorite channel ESPN. EPL soccer fans have all of their favorite stars coming home.

  34. Justin says:

    Maybe I’m missing something… what was the point of this article? A “what if”? Great… I couldn’t have imaged that on my own. Thanks for wasting my time.

  35. Ryan says:

    ESPN’s coverage of the EPL has been a joke to this point. First off, they don’t even air games on ESPN, they’re relegated to ESPN2. Second, they seem to find the absolute least glamorous fixture on every weekend. And finally, you spend a good 15 minutes of every game waiting on them to work out “technical difficulties”. This means sound with no picture, picture with no sound or listening to the lame in studio commentary. ESPN has been an EPIC FAIL with the EPL to date.

  36. AJ says:

    Ryan, you’re really out of line. Soccer is always on ESPN2 and ok they have problems but when the last time you’ve ever seen the picture that clear. Never, because FSC is probably the worst picture I’ve ever seen whichi s why I’m almost ready to give up on the CL. Back on point, this week’s game was probably the most exciting game this weekend (Depending on Villa/City). Be thankful for it that all of our games aren’t shown in 80s television picture!

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