History of Premier League being televised on US TV



Long before the Premier League debuted on August 15, 1992, top flight English football was available on US television. It was nothing compared to today’s offering where practically every weekend game is available to watch. But it’s been consistently available, in one form or another, to US viewers since the early 1990s.

World Soccer Talk has done the best it can to trace the history of top flight English football on US television.

UPDATED: Thanks to the help of you, the readers, as well as Oliver Tse from SoccerTV.com, Dave Brett Wasser, Fox Soccer Channel and Shane O’Rourke from Setanta Sports, the following article has been significantly updated to include more facts about the history of top flight English football on US television.

Here’s the history in chronological order:

1980: In 1980, the Trans-Atlantic Cup featured teams from Europe (Manchester City and Roma) against two teams from North America (New York Cosmos and Vancouver Whitecaps). In the games involving Manchester City that were televised on US television, Manchester City played New York Cosmos and Vancouver Whitecaps (Man City lost both games).

1990-1992: During the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons (and perhaps even earlier), there was a weekly show titled “English Soccer,” which was broadcast on regional sports networks across the country. Hosted by Jim Rosenthal, the show was similar in format to “Match Of The Day” where the majority of the highlights were focused on the big game of the week, and a shorter amount of time was given to showing the goal highlights from the other matches.

August 1992-1994: With the Premier League officially launched in August 1992, the delayed US TV rights to EPL in 1992-1994 were split between two national backdrop programming services which supplied the regional sports networks: Prime Network had the delayed rights to a match of the week, edited and condensed to 90 minutes (with commercial breaks), while SportsChannel America had the rights to the 1-hour weekly highlights package, “English Soccer.”

1994-1996: In 1995, Prime Network and SportsChannel America merged into a single corporate entity, Prime SportsChannel Networks, with Prime Network being the surviving backdrop service. Prime Network retained the 1-hour weekly EPL highlights package for the 1994-1995 and 1995-1996 seasons but did not keep the game of the week due to cost. For the 1994-1995 season, Prime Network also had live coverage of the English FA Cup Final (Everton-Manchester United), with J.P. Dellacamera and Ty Keough hosting the pre-game, half-time, and post-game “wraps” from a studio in what was Liberty SportsComm (now FOX Cable Tech Center) in Houston. CSI produced the 1995 FA Cup final with Peter Brackley as the commentator. (Prime Network was eventually absorbed into what is known as FOX Sports Net in November 1996.)

1996-1998: ESPN, Inc. outbid Prime Network for the U.S. cable/satellite TV rights to EPL for the 1996-1997 and 1997-1998 seasons. (ESPN allegedly bid 10 times what Prime bid according to a Prime Network staffer.) ESPN2 aired an EPL match on Mondays (usually same-day delay until early 1998, when the matches were aired live on ESPN2 after ESPN, Inc. had been outbid by FOX Sports International for the next contract cycle) as well as the 1-hour weekly highlights package. In 1996, the rights for Premier League’s live Saturday games went from ESPN to Setanta Sports and the Premier League games were then only available on Setanta’s pub channel. That meant punters had to pay anywhere between $10 to $20 to watch a single game on a Saturday morning. But, for the first time, English football fans in the United States could watch live matches beamed via satellite.

August 15, 1998: The coverage of the 1998-1999 Premier League season kicks off on Fox Sports World. From 1998-2000, cult legend Lionel Bienvenu hosted “The English Premier League Soccer Show” on Fox Sports Net and Fox Sports World. From 1998 to 2001, Fox Soccer Channel sub-licensed some of the Premier League games to Setanta. IMG Media (then known as Trans World International, or TWI) partnered with FAPL to form Premier League Productions (PLP) to handle all international TV production for EPL starting with the 1998-1999 season, replacing CSI. CSI was later acquired by Octagon and was sold to IMG, though it retained its autonomy through different owners. CSI still produces the English FA Cup and English National Team telecasts for international distribution.

February 12, 1999: FOX Sports Americas rebrands itself as FOX Sports World Espanol. For a short period of time, FOX Sports World and FOX Sports World Espanol aired identical matches in the same time slot for about 80% of the time.

August 8, 1999: The new Premier League season begins and Fox Sports World has coverage of the entire season.

September 1, 1999: The Premier League comes to DirecTV with the addition of Fox Sports World to the satellite provider’s programming lineup.

August 19, 2000: Fox Sports World kicks off the 2000-2001 Premier League season with its residential pay-per-view package offering live games on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the season. The first game of the new season was Chelsea versus Sunderland.

November 8, 2000: Fox Sports World is added to DISH Network.

March 1, 2001: Fox Sports World renews its Premier League TV rights deal for another three years for seasons 2001-2002, 2002-2003 and 2003-2004. In 2001, Setanta Sports lost the sub-licensed rights to DirecTV, who showed two key games per weekend from 2001-2003.

August 17, 2002: Fox Sports World kicks off its coverage of the 2002-2003 season by showing Leeds United against Manchester City. During the season, Fox shows three Premier League games a week at Saturday Noon ET, Sundays at 2pm ET and Mondays at 3pm ET.

August 16, 2003: Fox Sports World begins its 2003-2004 coverage of the Premier League by broadcasting Portsmouth against Aston Villa at 7:30am ET. Setanta Sports won back the sub-licensed rights from DirecTV. The matches that Setanta Sports had rights to were shown on the pub channel. Those same matches were made available by Fox Sports World on pay-per-view.

May 26, 2004: Fox Sports World announces it has retained the rights to the Premier League for the next three seasons (2004-2005, 2005-2006 and 2006-2007), and will also air the FA Cup and England national games. Fox hopes that the TV rights deal will help the network break the 20 million subscriber barrier. Around this time, DirecTV took away the rights from Setanta Sports and showed some games over the next two years.

October 1, 2004: The switch from FOX Sports World Espanol to “FOX Sports en Espanol” occurred.

February 6, 2005: Fox Sports World changes its name to Fox Soccer Channel. Fox shows approximately 195 matches per season.

August 19, 2006: Setanta Sports begins broadcasting Premier League football again after sub-licensing some of the rights from Fox Soccer Channel. While the previous season’s matches featured games only on Fox Soccer Channel, the 2006-2007 season showed 10 live games during the first week of the season compared to three the previous season. The era of pay-per-view Premier League matches was now officially over.

January 3, 2007: Fox Soccer Channel announces it has retained the rights to the Premier League on US TV for the next three seasons: 2007-2008, 2008-2009 and 2009-2010.

While the above history is pretty detailed, it by no means represents the complete history of US coverage of top flight English football. Feel free to add any comments below of anything that’s missing. Or post a comment to share an opinion about the development of Premier League football on US TV over the years.

Special thanks to soccer TV historian Oliver Tse and Setanta Sports President of North American & Australian Operations Shane O’Rourke.


36 thoughts on “History of Premier League being televised on US TV”

  1. My first encounter with English football(and for many Americans, in the early to mid ’70’s) was a highlight show of 1st Division games every Sat. on Public Television. I believe the games were distributed here by Lew Grade’s ITC/ATV and hosted by Mario Machado. Occaisionally, they would show FA Cup Final matches(all 90 min). Still remember games with ol’ Joe Jordan(sans his front tooth), Alan Sunderland of the Arsenal, and others from that period of time.

      1. Yep, “Soccer Made in Germany” with Toby Charles(…”and…it’s in the back of the NET!!) was on Sundays on my PBS station. First game I ever saw was Bayern Munich v Hamburg – 3-3 tie with the legendary Gerd Muller getting a hattrick!

          1. Looking foward to this, gaffer! My friends and I would play pick-up games after watching SMG and regaled each other with bits like “That was tall, long and not very hansome.” :)

    1. I remember that show as well, except it aired on Sundays on PBS here…. seems like Liverpool was often featured prominently ……

      I just got Setanta this month , have had FSC for a while now, I was fascinated by the first division as a kid in the 70’s, but was hard to keep up with stateside . Now I shall feast from the EPL buffet !

      As a newbie to Setanta , between them and FSC, should I expect to see the Liverpool match aired every week ?

    1. I’m with you Kartik. I was just new to FSW then and frankly could not figure out if the show was a soccer version of the Daily Show or not. In either case Bienvenu had a quality that he was so bad he was good. I would love to watch them again myself. Also, the time slot was great, late Sunday night. 10:30pm Central time as I recall it. Once the NFL football season was over it was the best thing on late night on Sunday.

  2. In the 90’s, Used to be this bar in Brooklyn that was owned by this Northern Irish guy, and he would have Monday night football bar nights. A FedEx’d PAL videotape from a friend in London, and a 500 dollar dual format vcr, we’d all not discuss the score or be banished.

    And they’d have beer specials based on the regions of the clubs playing. Arsenal V Newcastle, Fullers and Newcastle half price, and there was also a 13″ tv that showed the game that they call football, but use their hands and wear tights.

    1. Patrick, that’s an incredible story. It sounds like an underground cult, which is a good description of how many of us jumped through hoops to watch our football — and how spoiled we are today!

      That bar owner was a genius!

      The Gaffer

  3. Yes the Regional Networks had English Soccer.. it was produced by TWI.. it was a great product.. i still have video tapes of that show… i cant believe how much they crammed into one hour.. the heyday of Cantona.. i remember the commercial promos they had advertising his return after his ban… RSN also had Italian soccer also…good program..
    Fox sports world was the reason i got Direct TV.. been with them ever since..

  4. Will live Premiership matches be broadcast on FSC and Setanta again this year? Or has the collapse of Setanta in the UK changed things? Last year I was able to see more live Premiership footy than my mates back in Blighty!

    1. Fernando, no changes. We’ll still get the same quantity and quality of Premier League coverage on Setanta and FSC during the 2009-2010 season.

      The Gaffer

  5. gaffer,
    the quality may actually be better, because i believe fsc is going to launch an HD channel some time during this season, correct? any idea if epl matches will be in HD on that channel?

  6. Gaffer, great story! I got hooked on English Football in late 1992, when Prime Network (South Florida) showed compact matches and highlights.
    Those were the NO INTERNET DAYS, scores and standings were found on the stats page of the local paper. Read Soccer America, World Soccer and Soccer Digest to keep updated. It’s just amazing how Fox Soccer has about 10 games available to watch… we’ve come a long way.
    I don’t remember ESPN having EPL matches on Mondays. Never knew. All I remember is ESPN having the Champions League rights since 1993. They also had EURO 96.

  7. There’s a good article in this months ‘When Saturday comes’ about the history of ESPN televising football in the US.

    In the days before ESPN bought US college sports rights, they did televise Cup finals (this was in the 80s I think). It’s worth reading if you get the chance.

    1. Thanks Ian for the tip. I’ll have to keep an eye out for WSC in my local bookstore in Florida, to see if they sell the magazine on import.

      The Gaffer

  8. With the administration of Setanta, and ESPN’s purchase of European rights, does anyone know what will happen to Setanta’s US TV rights? Will the US market only have FOX Soccer?

    1. Setanta US is a separate enough entity that for the time being (2009-10 season) they will be business as usual. ESPN winning the UK rights only impact in US will be that some fixture start times may get changed. Fox holds the US broadcast rights, and then sub-liscences them to Setanta. Nothing should change from last year on Setanta US.

  9. Thanks to all for the very informative comments regarding the differences between US & UK Setanta, and the sub-license as well. I thought this was the case when I heard of Setanta’s issues a few months back, but nobody was able to confirm it for me. Needless to say, I was worried I’d miss my favorite league this season. I’ve been a fan of soccer forever, I just didn’t release it existed on US TV for so long.

    I do feel that getting the games live is much better than delayed viewing -no will power to not sneak a peek at the scores.

    Anyway, thanks again.

    Go Gunners!

  10. I remember back in the early ESPN days they showed FA Cup matches. It was the first live non-NASL games I watched on the tube. They showed Tottenham’s run through to the Cup final when they had Hoddle, Ricky Villa, Ossie Ardiles, Garth Crooks, etc. on the squad. They (inconsistently) showed FA Cup Finals theough the 80’s as well. I still have ESPN’s broadcast on VHS of the 1989 FA Cup final.

    Lionel Bienvenu – Greatest line during his highlight show – ” SHOTS FIRED, GOALIE DOWN!!!”

  11. Kartick and Cantoan should transfer those old Prem Review Shows to a hard drive and post them on YouTube or another video site. I would love to see those old highlight shows that featured all of the goals and manager interviews for the week.

    It’s too bad that it would be so niche but I’d love to see a film or even a podcast featuring interviews with the movers and the shakers that put the Premier League on TV.

    Hopefully Fox Soccer will do something cool in terms of looking back at the Premier League as a TV property on their network as they build up to the end of the run as the network that has the Prem Rights.

    Thanks for putting this piece together Gaffer and the rest of the contributors.

  12. The two hour Fox show with Lionel Biovenu and Max Bretos was my intro. I got into it right after the 1998 world cup. As a kid I watched the 1994 and 1998 world cups fully but it was not until that fox show that I started following club teams.

    1. Good timing. Max Bretos will be our guest tonight on World Soccer Talk Radio from 9-10pm ET on Sports Byline.

  13. This is an old article but a good one.

    My first memories of Premier League on American tv was just after the formation of the PL. A regional sports channel called sport south aired a highlights show, where they showed condensed highlights and then showed the league table at the end of the show. There was no analysis or pundits.

    A friend had a giant satellite dish that picked up channels from all over the world. It had BSkyB, which if I remember correctly had most of the rights to live coverage at the time.

    I went to the UK for the first time in 1995 and saw MOTD and was awestruck.

  14. Thank god for the Internet and true globalization. I’m sure if you looked hard enough you could find a Mongolian PL match on hehe.

  15. Interesting stuff, Chris. But I think you’re missing some things from the early days. I grew up in San Diego and recall being able to watch a match each week with full British commentary on Sunday evenings on my local PBS station in the late 70s/early 80s. Teams like Ipswich, Leeds, Man City, Nottingham Forest, and many others were featured – not just the traditional “big teams.” Not sure about other PBS stations in the rest of the country, but we had it in SD. I believe it was distributed by ITC (Incorporated Television Company).

    1. Thanks Garry. Very interesting and I wasn’t aware of that. Do you remember the name of the show so I can hunt it down and try to find more information about it?

      1. Sorry, Chris. I don’t. I just remember the spinning ITC logo at the end of the broadcasts. I was like 11-12 years old playing traveling soccer in a day when the game was not nearly as popular in the US. Of course I was soccer crazed and this was the only soccer on TV I could find!

  16. Fantastic article. I first started watching English highlights very late at night in the mid-90s on MSG in NYC. In hindsight I guess it must have been MOTD repackaged as “English Soccer” as reference above.

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