ESPN’s Premier League Opener a Missed Opportunity (Updated)



This weekend ESPN demonstrated why most American football fans should be pleased that the worldwide leader has acquired EPL and La Liga rights. The Saturday match, despite some hiccups between the studio tandem of Georgie Bingham and Robbie Mustoe, provided  us with timely highlight and analysis of ongoing matches in a modern studio.

Monday’s telecast (simulcasted from ESPN UK) which featured Ray Stubbs in studio and Jon Champion on the call was brilliant: perhaps the best live EPL telecast we have been able to enjoy in the US in many years. ESPN has brought a quality presentation to the UK using the high production standards of the US operation without any of the annoying, “ESPN attitude.” Simply put, ESPN’s Monday Night telecast was as close to a perfect sport broadcast as you will ever see on these shores, or across the pond.

La Liga broadcasts begin in a few weeks, and expectations must be quite high for ESPN to bring a high standard, European style telecast with the quality of American production to viewers. But one lingering issue remains: ESPN’s MLS broadcasts are not being plugged agressively during these matches, and seeing the high standard and promotion ESPN is giving European football, shouldn’t MLS and USMNT fans demand the same treatment?



ESPN formally gained the rights to show EPL Saturday morning matches less than twelve hours before the initial match kicked off at 7:45 AM ET/4:45 AM PT. Our sister site, EPL Talk had reported for eight days that the network had acquired the rights, but no public announcement was made until the last minute, and no advertising was done for the Chelsea-Hull City opener.

Despite this, ESPN 2 garnered a highly respectable 0.2 Nielsen rating for a match that started before 5am on the west coast of the United States. This rating matches the average viewer ship share for ESPN 2’s primetime MLS telecasts that do not include the Seattle Sounders FC. So, in short, ESPN got the same market share for a match that started in the early morning with no advertising, as they do for a match they show in primetime with moderate advertising.

It can be safely assumed that with some advertising and basic features such as the match being listed on the program guide the viewer ship will further increase. I for example, have spoken to two fans (both of whom do not watch MLS but do watch the USMNT) who missed the Saturday morning game because they searched for it on Setanta, and did not find it and thus assumed it was not on TV.

Since it has been determined that viewers will flock to EPL telecasts at ridiculous times of the morning, and even find the game if it is not listed on the TV Guide channel or programming guide of satellite and cable systems, shouldn’t ESPN be obligated to build the brand of the product that they have invested a rights fee for? Or was it acceptable that ESPN made no mention of upcoming MLS broadcasts?

We saw no MLS advertisements or promotion during the match. We heard no discussion of MLS or the USMNT in the pre-game or halftime shows. For a causal observer, this essentially seemed that ESPN perhaps is ashamed to even advertise that they show MLS to the EPL viewers, which the network assumes are significantly more sophisticated in football terms.

ESPN, based on the early returns will be successful with the Premier League. The windows for matches they have acquired are not necessarily the most attractive, but as demonstrated in the first telecast, a certain core of viewers will find the program. We must also assume that ESPN will have some success with the La Liga package they have acquired, which includes showing the Real Madrid-Barca match twice each season.

But where does that leave the domestic product? Does ESPN simply assume that viewers of the Premier League and La Liga, will not watch MLS so they do not waste their time promoting it? Or is this a tacit admission that MLS has maxed out as far as viewers in its current form, and the network is more concerned about building the brand of international football entering a World Cup year?

26 thoughts on “ESPN’s Premier League Opener a Missed Opportunity (Updated)”

  1. It is simply the result of an 11th hour negotiation concluding and relying strictly on the int’l feed for all commentary.

    Half-time was thrown over to ESPN News – Commercials were all still related to hunting, fishing and whatever the network had previously scheduled.

    Let’s give ESPN a few weeks to see what the ‘ESPN’ production (including commercials, studio show, etc) looks like before jumping to this conclusion. Saturday’s game is not a good example to judge this by.

  2. “For a causal observer, this essentially seemed that ESPN perhaps is ashamed to even advertise that they show MLS to the EPL viewers, which the network assumes are significantly more sophisticated in football terms.”

    Definitely not true, they didn’t even put together anything at half-time or post-match, one thinks because they didn’t know they would be showing it.

    One even presumes that ‘MLS fans may actually be more sophisticated in football terms’ as most already watch other leagues but choose to watch MLS because it is their domestic league and they choose to support it.

  3. 175,000 viewers for an EPL game at 5 am on the west coast as compared to 225,000 viewers for heavily advertised MLS games in prime time.

    Tell me all I need to know…………..

    MLS fans pretend like ESPN doesn’t care, but in fact they have foolishly believed the rosy projections from MLS HQ as far as projected viewership and have in many cases taken big loses to show the games in primetime.

    Additionally, ESPN advertises and over sells MLS as a product, which has turned many credible or as you call us sophisticated footy fans off of the whole thing. I’ll still try and support MLS, but reserve my viewing to the FSC game with Bretos and Sullivan instead of the patronizing, insulting and quite frankly amatuerish wave the flag ESPN2 telecasts.

    La Liga and the EPL are going to blow MLS out of the water on ESPN and expose to John Skipper that MLS either needs to upgrade its product for TV or the Disney networks need to simply focus on European and South American footy. The ball is still in MLS’ hands, but don’t expect Garber to get the memo.

  4. EPL and La Liga on ESPN is good and bad for MLS. It’s good because they can show the beautiful game at its very best. This will increase respect for the game in the States. Also, MLS gets solid advertising time with fans who love the game but aren’t oriented with the U.S. domestic league. On the other hand, if anyone actually then CATCHES a MLS game after a Barcelona game, MLS is revealed as a sub-standard league.

    And Kartik, seriously? You’re pissed they didn’t put an “MLS half-time update” together at the last second? We finally have a non-U.S. league in HD and all you can think to say is that they didn’t mention MLS? You’re like a whiny girlfriend who can’t have a good time unless you’re getting all the attention.

    “It was a great concert, I just wish you’d pay more attention to me. You didn’t even introduce me to any of your friends. Geez!” -Kartik

  5. Everyone, lets chill! Give ESPN some time to figure it out. Let them build up an audience, let them have more than 6 minutes to figure out a half time show.

    Kartik, is right and I think ESPN knows it that they need to promote MLS and their other soccer products on the EPL broadcasts. The MLS is now more than ever a valuable part of ESPN’s line-up. Why you ask. For soccer to gain the public interest ESPN needs, there MUST BE AN AMERICAN GAME OF SUBSTANCE. Every new soccer league or tournament that ESPN puts on means that the American game must become relevant to the broad base of American sports fans or else the programming becomes only a novelty and an expensive one at that. ESPN I am certain knows it’s business, now it’s another question if MLS is visionary or not.

    Give the world wide leader a chance.

    1. I want MLS to suceed as much as anyone else. But what you said is false.

      Just like fans in Korea, Japan, etc. all have domestic leagues. It pails in comparison that the EPL gets there. ESPN is about RATINGS. If MLS is good or not is completely independent of people watching EPL/La Liga. There’s no correlation.

      MLS has a tough job. Yes they can offer live soccer to US fans. But I know no one (not saying they don’t exist) who would rather sit down and watch MLS instead of Euorpean leagues. Go to a pub showing the CL Final. It will be packed. No one gives a shit about the MLS cup.

  6. “For a causal observer, this essentially seemed that ESPN perhaps is ashamed to even advertise that they show MLS to the EPL viewers, which the network assumes are significantly more sophisticated in football terms.”

    This statement doesn’t make any sense at all considering they show MLS games in the UK.

  7. Some of the advertising could well be finishing contracts. ESPN will sort it out.

    The MLS promos, trails, moving images are glossy, exciting, the best sports tease around. Surprised no one has picked up on this. That’s investment in talent right there, appreciate it, it’s great.

  8. The No. 1 play on Saturday night was Drogba’s game-winner against Hull, and the announcer mentioned that the game was on ESPN that morning, so give the WWL some time — they might just get it right. Because the announcement came so late on Friday night/Saturday morning, ESPN probably didn’t have time to do a “What To Watch For” promo that I would expect will become the norm going forward.

  9. Whole heartily agree with the majority of commenters here. Kartik, your post is two weeks too early considering the 11th hour nature of the deal. Hell, on DirecTV as of last night NEXT Saturday morning’s ESPN2 EPL game still hasn’t been put into the programming schedule. If you don’t see any cross promotion in the next two weeks, feel free to rant. But really, this was way premature.

  10. I am going to say they are getting it right.
    The new promo for epl Saturdays and la liga Sundays has me fired up and has the white stripes song stuck in my girlfriends head as she’s turned to watch it both times.
    More so looking at the guide to dvr it sat morning pst time I noticed two MLS HD games in the meantime and what the hey record those too and at least breeze through them and watch the goals and USMNT pool players.

    The HD pent up demand is ESPNS benefit

  11. Yes, I figure with everything last minute they didn’t want to put a lot of money into the programing not knowing if it was actually going to happen or not. EPSN did have a pregame and I noticed that they mentioned Altidore playing for Hull so I assume the pregame was taped the previous day when we all thought Jozy would be playing. So they must have done a little work.

    The thing that is annoying me know, is that Comcast still has their programing set for fishing and baseball for next Saturday morning. I went to set my weeks worth of footy on the DVR and they still have the old programing. So I had to manually set it up.

  12. obviously they did no preparation for this game. they still had the ads associated with the hunting shows the epl game replaced. the intro was taped the night before and the halftime and postgame was an ESPN News segment, the latter of which was taped too. the game wasn’t even in the espn online tv guide until the middle of the night. i’m sure there’ll be much more branding around this thing this week. if not, it’ll be clear that ESPN has some other strategy up their sleeves.

  13. I dont need to take a wait-and-see approach with ESPN. They’ve been broadcasting long enough that they should know what the heck they are doing. I’m up at O’-dark thirty and stupid o’clock in the morning every Saturday and Sunday to watch FSC broadcasts of the EPL. Perhaps ESPN should take a lesson from the networks they have spawned (Versus.) If you hype it, and advertise it, people will watch!

  14. I say you gotta give it time. They did throw this together at the last minute even though we had an idea that it was going to come off even though the ink wasn’t dry till Friday Night.

    I think it would be smart to run a promo before, at halftime, and after the game for the MLS Game of the Week also where to watch Bundesliga and La Liga matches over the weekend and whatever futbol programming ESPN has this coming week. I would also promote what people with 360 can watch if you don’t get it and do the classic call your local cable operator if they don’t have 360 promo at the end putting pressure on the cable companies to pick it up.

    What I really hope is that ESPN will do an 1/2 hour to hour long pre-game show using pieces produced for their pre-game show on Saturday Afternoon in the UK as well as produce other pieces talking up the history of the league, superstars present and past, and legendary stories of the league trying to show fans that if you watch the league this season there will be moments like this that you will always remember. I would be interested to hear from people in the UK who have ESPN and ask them how slickly produced are the futbol pieces they have been doing if they started a SportsCenter or at least during the pre-game, halftime, postgame, and the rest of the futbol programming the show during the week. The big difference I see in ESPN and FSC is the ability for ESPN to produce much better up close and personal pieces during the pre-game than FSC which uses talking heads as well as highlight packages that aren’t that slick like what ESPN produces for their programming here in the States in the leagues they cover.

    I would also find as many North American Mainstream Sports Stars that are futbol fans and have them cut a promo about that they can watch the Premiership on ESPN and who their team is and favorite players. Guys like Ochocinco, KG, Steve Nash, and Kobe would fit the bill as guys that are big sports stars that are also futbol fans that would be great to use. Hell throw in a Dirk commercial for their Bundesliga coverage if he is a fan of a side in Germany. I could see Joe Blow Sports Guy that is open minded to watching futbol could be enticed more by seeing a guy like KG getting up and out of bed putting on his Chelsea Jersey and flipping on ESPN 2 for his Premiership action. Or Kobe having a kick about with Messi proclaiming his love for Barca.

    I remember reading that ESPN Press Pass was going to go 5 days a week at some point. Is that an online property, is it airing somewhere on the ESPN Family of Networks, or has it not debuted yet? What I hope is that ESPN would maybe at midnight on Classic would simulcast an hour long of their ESPN SportsCenter UK where AWA Wrestling Classics are. I am a fan of classic pro graps but even I realize that the AWA was pretty awful by the time that ESPN picked it up outside some of the Midnight Rockers stuff, Curt Henning/Jerry Lawler feud, and a few random things hear and there as the rest of the programming is pretty worthless. An hour long version of ESPN SportsCenter UK or an ESPN International SportsCenter would be sweet as again I could see them produce much slicker pieces than what Sky produces that we see on Through The Night even though I do hand it to SSTTN as they do a great job of running down what is going on in the Prem and the Championship in getting all of managers pressers and news from the different clubs. Also since they are covering the Bundesliga, La Liga, MLS, and the Mexican League could give the news, highlights, and scores. With it airing at Midnight on the East Coast it would provide a good lead in for the night owls that watch the 2nd airing of the FSR and Sky Sports that airs from 1am to 3am.

    Anyway, we got to give them a couple of weeks to get their coverage in order. I mean again today during the 6pm SportsCenter we got the Burnley/United highlights showing the Burnley goal and the Carrick PK miss following up seeing the highlights last night of the Chelsea/Sunderland game as well as the Celtic/Arsenal game on ESPN NEWS and that is a CL game that ESPN doesn’t have the rights to anymore. We have come a long way and it would be absurd for ESPN not to promote all of their futbol properties during each of the games they air as well as have commercials that ESPN has all this futbol on all of their different networks as I really expect them to really blow it out at the World Cup this summer with all the of the production it sounds like they are putting into the event.

    Of course in time we shall see but we do need to give it a couple of weeks…………………

    1. Presspass is not airing in the US anymore it seems. Pregame shows are a pipe dream for ESPN. they’re currently running promos about EPL on saturday, La Liga on Sunday (even if it’s only 20 of the 38 sundays of the league schedule).

      ESPN UK is miles apart from what we have here. They have discerning UK viewers there wary of what Mickey Mouse and America are going to do their league. I doubt you’ll see any of that here except maybe to have commentary. I’m not sure ESPN will want to use the TWI woorld feed guys. Might be the guys in Bristol.

  15. They had a huge promo commercial for it during halftime of the MLS game last night. The announcers also mentioned it once during the first half. If they do the same thing for MLS I am fine with it. A couple ccmmercials for it during the broadcast and then mention check the MLS wednesday night etc.

  16. Most true “American football” fans don’t give a crap about the EPL or MLS. I’m surprised Kartik doesn’t regularly call our little kickball association, Major League Football in all of his posts.

    We all know it’s called football most everywhere except in areas where a wildly more popular version of the game is played (say hello to the USA, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada). Soccer is not a bad word and it sure as hell not an American word. Soccer is an old English acronym for the game that is more than useful and appropriate to use without looking like some scorn Floridian who feels like his home state is some kind oi soccer hotbed when in reality it’s not much more than a retirement destination for New Yorkers, a vacation spot for snow birds and what most, mouse ear wearing kids consider The Magical Mecca of pre-teen pop stars.

    Besides that, another strong and thoughtful article Kartik. 😉

  17. The continued failure to promote MLS on the ESPN EPL broadcasts is a mistake. Let’s hope it is not a intentional one.

  18. Most true “American football” fans don’t give a crap about the EPL or MLS. I’m surprised Kartik doesn’t regularly call our little kickball association, Major League Football in all of his posts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *