Earlier today I wrote a post breaking the news that ESPN had garnered the highest ratings for a Premier League game in US history with a viewing audience of 374,799 for last weekend’s Wigan against Manchester United broadcast. Well, I spoke too soon. That record has now been smashed by Monday’s TV ratings for ESPN2’s coverage of Liverpool against Aston Villa.
According to an ESPN spokesperson, the broadcast of Liverpool against Aston Villa garnered a rating of 0.3. The 3pm ET game was viewed in 339,696 TV households, and the total viewing audience was 398,391. That’s just 1,609 viewers short of the 400k mark.
The incredible ratings for the first three Premier League games aired on ESPN2 reflect an average viewing audience of 312,558 — which is quite impressive based on the last-minute acquisition of the TV rights (just 12 hours before the Chelsea against Hull game kicked off) and relatively little advertising and word of mouth exposure. In comparison, the average rating for a Premier League game shown on Fox Soccer Channel last season was 90,000.
It’s still early days yet for ESPN’s coverage of the 2009/2010 season. At this rate, and with the help of the fixture computer, it’s very possible that ESPN will be able to break the 500k number in terms of viewers, which would be an incredible milestone for the network to reach in the United States.
While Fox Soccer Channel and Setanta Sports have been faithful participants in bringing the Premier League to United States television in recent years, there’s something different about ESPN and the power that the network holds. Part of it is the availability of the channel, which is much more widespread than Fox and Setanta. But it’s also a sense that the Premier League has finally arrived — in the mainstream.
By ESPN doing that, this will also benefit Fox Soccer Channel and Setanta Sports as fans new to football will seek out other networks for the matches that ESPN are not showing.
This season, the Premier League and ESPN have an opportunity to bring a whole new audience of Americans who previously were not soccer fans into the game. A similar phenomenon happens every four years at World Cup time when the massive coverage of the sport brings the games into households who are curious about the tournament and what it makes it so popular.
That’s something that FSC and Setanta can only do by dribs and drabs, while ESPN can flood the market. Between all three networks, we’re in store for the best coverage of a Premier League season ever.