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.