According to a recent article in The Times newspaper, the Walt Disney Company has expressed an interest in bidding for the TV rights to the Premier League in the United Kingdom and United States. The next auction of broadcast rights is due to start next January for the 2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons.
If ESPN wins the broadcast rights, the impact will be huge for soccer fans in the UK and US. At EPL Talk, we decided to ask our fellow bloggers to examine what an ESPN soccer world would look like in this roundtable discussion:
Richard Whittall: Much has been promised in the long and dubious history of soccer-promotion in the United States, but getting European club football on a major US sports network is probably the only way to finally break through the infamous ‘American exception.’ The best example comes from your friendly northern neighbours. While local media were quick to attribute Toronto FC’s success to the multicultural make-up of the city, the real reason had to do with the fact that European club football had been available on basic cable for several decades (something I wrote about shortly after Euro 2008). Younger sports fans discovered the game by chance, and when TFC came to town they were more than happy to get a taste of club football for themselves. Forcing fans of the game to order specialty channels makes a good buck but does nothing to grow your audience. Club football has a universal appeal, and exposing uninitiated fans to the European game will do more for American soccer than the World Cup, NASL or MLS ever could; it could be the breakthrough soccer converts have been waiting for.
Jeffrey Hash: It’s not a stunning admission to me. ESPN has been talking about expanding internationally, and the acquisition of rights to the Twenty20 Champions League in cricket worldwide or the North American Sports Network, which is to be rebranded ESPN in Europe, show they are looking outward. The issue is how deep into their pockets will they go to take on two broadcasters with paying subscribers backing up their wallets and a league that doesn’t need the ESPN machine to build its name. Unless ESPN is willing to stomach a sizable initial loss to muscle its way in, I expect this will end up being more talk than action.
Michael James: A successful bid by ESPN for TV rights to the Premier League here in the US would be the next, necessary step towards growing soccer in this country. MLS certainly isn’t going to accomplish that, and Fox Soccer Channel and Setanta aren’t in enough households to do it either. When ESPN televises something, any sport, they do it right, and they spare no expense. They’d cover the Premier League well enough for hardcore soccer fans here but simplify it enough for newcomers to be able to pick up the game. I think this would be a huge move in the right direction.
Juan Arango: My opinion would be that it’s not a bad thing. They are making a real push to become a real player worldwide in football. What they did in Euro 2008 was a big first step towards what they want to do in the long term. That plus their exclusivity with the Champions League is going to be crucial. Fox Soccer Channel could be in hot water if they decide to rival them here in the States. There is still talk of ESPN Classic becoming more of a soccer network, per se and that can’t be done without the Premiership.
The Gaffer: While I agree with many of the opinions mentioned above, the one thing I have a very difficult time is picturing a scenario in the United Kingdom where Sky Sports would be playing second fiddle. If it wasn’t for Sky, the Premier League wouldn’t be where they are today — for better or for worse. I can see both ESPN and Sky Sports sharing the rights to football in the UK, which could drive Setanta Sports out of business. In the United States, I predict we’ll end up with ESPN owning the rights and showing the big games, while Fox Soccer Channel and Setanta Sports will show the other games.
What do you think? Share your opinion by clicking the comments link below. Thanks to Juan Arango for the idea for this roundtable discussion.