ESPN has finally cracked the code of how to produce soccer for the American audience. Show it in high definition, feature a strong team of commentators, promote the tournament across your networks, don’t cut the national anthems, include advertising at appropriate moments, reduce the hype and include intelligent discussions during the pre-game, halftime and post-game parts of the show.
Instead of making soccer fans cringe, the network provided one month of Euro 2008 coverage that fans could believe in. Sure, the games were watched mostly by soccer aficionados, but the tournament also permeated mainstream America. From my own experience, I saw Euro 2008 games on TVs at airports, my local gym, Whole Foods Market, local sport bars and, most importantly, inside the homes of Americans who are slowly warming to the game.
The challenge for the growth of the sport in this country is that many Americans don’t even realize that Fox Soccer Channel, Setanta Sports and GolTV even exist. For the sport to enter America’s consciousness, it needs to be on ESPN regularly. Yes, ESPN already carries some Major League Soccer games as well as internationals, but the time is ripe for the Disney owned network to invest more heavily in soccer by aggressively bidding for the next TV rights to the Premier League, which will be opened to bidders later this year.
ESPN has come a long way in such a short time. It was less than a year ago when David Beckham made his debut for LA Galaxy when the production of the game by ESPN was such a disgrace. ESPN focused so much time during the game on shots of Beckham on the bench, celebrities in the stands and updates from the touchlines instead of focusing on the game that was being played on the field. In less than a year, they’ve completely turned the corner. Congratulations ESPN on a fantastic month-long production. Now we just need you to keep the love coming.