ESPN Refuses to Rule Out Possibility Of Dedicated Soccer TV Network

Perfection is almost impossible to attain, but given ESPN’s performance during the 2010 World Cup, they’ve come as close as any TV network can get. Commentators, production value, some of the best analysts and beautiful HD broadcasts, it’s hard to imagine any network being able to outdo the level of quality that ESPN has provided viewers in the United States.

Not surprisingly, the TV ratings on ESPN have broken a multitude of records. And World Cup viewership is up 50 percent from the 2006 World Cup with an average of 2.94 million viewers per game.

And now, gulp, there is talk about ESPN considering the prospect of creating a dedicated 24/7 soccer network. Cue executives at Fox Soccer Channel perspiring at the thought of ESPN competing with them head-to-head.

For now, all we have is a quote from ESPN President George Bodenheimer who, when asked whether ESPN was considering a 24/7 soccer network, said Wednesday

“It’s not something we’re actively looking at right now, but I wouldn’t rule anything out given that the company likes to continue to grow.”

While the World Cup is a one-of-a-kind tournament that cannot be surpassed in terms of the scale of the event globally, the chemistry of what makes the World Cup so special is available each weekend during a typical club season. Take a weekend where you have a big clash in the Premier League followed by a top-of-the-table battle in La Liga. You’re likely to see several of the same top World Cup stars playing against each other in games that are sometimes more open and entertaining than World Cup games. Plus the stadiums are likely to be filled with as much passion and noise than you’d see in South Africa. Combine that with superb coverage, production value and analysis like we’ve seen from ESPN during the World Cup and you have the recipe for continued high TV ratings. Best of all, you can carry that across ten months instead of just one for the World Cup. Sure, the ratings won’t be as high as Copa Mundial, but over the course of the season, imagine how attractive the coverage would be for soccer viewers and advertisers alike.

The key for continued high ratings in America is one important ingredient: American soccer players competing at the highest level in Europe or abroad. If soccer fans in the United States can see stars such as Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and others playing against the best of the best, it gives ESPN renewed hope that TV ratings will remain high as Americans get behind their players. And cheer them on even if the two teams playing seem as remote and foreign as they possibly can be.

For now, Bodenheimer’s words are a tease for soccer fans. But for the head of ESPN to even consider the possibility shows you how far soccer has risen in such a short amount of time, how well ESPN has done and how soccer fans have gravitated to this tournament. The sky is the limit for ESPN, which is wonderful news for soccer fans (and ESPN). But it also means that it’ll force Fox Soccer Channel to raise its game in order to compete. Whether they will or not is not known at this time, but it’ll be interesting to watch from the touchline.

37 thoughts on “ESPN Refuses to Rule Out Possibility Of Dedicated Soccer TV Network”

      1. Why would an executive at any large company rule out ANYTHING that could make them money down the road – particularly when ruling it out would only serve to piss off a portion of their audience? I agree with THFC… there’s no story here.

      2. Agree with THFC. The ESPN guy said “It’s not something we’re actively looking at right now, but I wouldn’t rule anything out”. So by the same token, he’s also “not ruled out” a channel devoted to Miniature Golf, Ostrich Racing or Cheese-Rolling. Doesn’t really imply that those are growing sports in the US.

  1. I hope someone high up at ESPN reads this blog because they are to be congratulated on an outstanding job. I grew up watching the world cup on the BBC and ESPN’s coverage this time around is as good as anything the Beeb has put on. They really listened to the feedback after 2006. No dumbed down coverage this time. Instead we got top draw commentators and pundits who know their stuff. Even Lalas has grown on me after the USA went out and he started being more objective. All of it held together by anchors who understand the game. Wow!

    A dedicated channel would be the icing on the cake. But first give credit where its due. Well done ESPN. You have succeeded in my watching more of your channel the past few weeks than in the last 10 years. I have bods at work who had ZERO interest in soccer before the world cup and who now can’t stop talking about it. ESPN has made the world cup a television event in the same way that NBC does with the Olympics. ESPN should take the plunge, buy GolTV and start a dedicated channel.

  2. The EPL just awarded their rights for the upcoming season through the end of 2012-2013. ESPN has what it has.
    Not sure about the next 3 years for Spain, Germany, or Italy – the other countries whose league can draw an audience.
    If I were president of ESPN, interviewed in the middle of the World Cup, with rights for the next World Cup, I would not “rule anything out” either.
    ESPN’s only short term option is to buy FSC and FSC+, which is not out of the question, and using the existing FSC channels on cable and satellite to do what you suggest.

    1. Actually, their only option is to buyout GolTV. They already air one La Liga game a week and to get the Bundesliga rights as well would be a great get for them.

      ESPN Soccernet (I assume that’s what they’d call the channel) wouldn’t try to take over what FSC is, but it would compliment it. If they were to launch the channel before 2013, Soccernet would be the place for analysis. Just the fact that their nightly SportsCenter would be internally produced makes it streets ahead of Fox Soccer Report. After 2013, all bets are off because that would make 2014 a ridiculous year for them having both the World Cup and EPL right after (if they could secure the rights).

      For now though, ESPN could have a wonderful channel devoted to soccer. If they did buy out Gol TV they’d have 2 of the top 4 leagues. They already air other European leagues on ESPN Deportes. If they could air those games in English and maybe get the English language rights to Mexican and South American soccer leagues, it would make their soccer channel very attractive.

  3. I think if ESPN really sees a viable market in soccer in America, this is their best option. They have a dedicated college sports channel, spanish language channel and ESPN Classic, why not a soccer channel? There is certainly enough soccer to keep fans interested.

    Admittedly though, if what I saw today on ESPN3 is true, that EPL matches shown on ESPN2 will also be on ESPN3, the broadband channel might render the need for a dedicated soccer channel useless. In November, ESPN3 will be available for HD streaming on Xbox360, and may come to other platforms later. If ESPN continues down this route (which I think they should), soccer fans could watch a plethora of the sport made available by ESPN.

    1. The only problem with is that alot of cable providers won’t bend to what ESPN wants for the service, like the “wonderful” people at Cablevision.

      Things Cablevision needs to add FSC in HD, FS+/HD, GolTV in HD, and

  4. ESPN runs circles around fox in terms of production. For example, The fine analysis of Fox’s “Ticket to South Africa” is negated by a cheap set that looks like it was built in a basement. ESPN probably will give Fox a run for their money by bidding for rights in years to come.

    1. “The fine analysis of Fox’s “Ticket to South Africa” is negated by a cheap set that looks like it was built in a basement.”
      by Brn442

      … and doing interviews with their correspondent they sent to South Africa via phone or Skype! The whole coverage of the WC by Fox looked and felt amateurish, and to think they have a soccer-only channel you would think they would be on top of things!

  5. The on air talent has been very high in accented English, which fires up the anglo/eurocentric types. But, I think it has been poor. Gullit is a joke, McManaman adds nothing and Lalas is a hack. That is before even getting in to the in game talent. Did anyone catch Ekoku criticising the Spanish players for not singing the national anthem (implying that they weren’t “for the cause”). That would maybe be valid if the anthem had LYRICS. Darke, Tyler, and Ekoku have kept us very informed on any player that plays mid level in the English pyramid, but other than that they have been mediocre.

    1. Kevin,
      I too noticed the criticism of the Spanish players not singing the anthem. Which sent me to wiki b/c I was sure during Euro 08 I had learned from another commentator that the anthem had no official lyrics. To me this is a much bigger gaffe and much more offensive, since he was attacking their perceived nationalism, then Derek Rae calling Slovenia Slovakia or Slovakia Slovenia (which I have heard mistaken on a plethera of other podcast and shows, that includes the world cup soccer buzz podcast).

      1. Kevin & JK –
        I agree that was an aweful gaffe by Ekoku. In fact, regardless of whether or not the Spanish anthem has lyrics, I think it would be culturally insensitive for Ekoku to assume that it is customary for Spanish people to sing along, and to criticize them for not doing so. Who knows what the norms are in a foreign culture?

    2. Gullit and Roberto Martinez have been great. McManaman’s banter with Lalas is entertaining, and Klinsmann is knowledgeable. The commentators have been fine as well. I think ESPN’s done a good job with analysts.

  6. The HD has nothing to do with ESPN, and if they were to become a US carrier of int’l broadcasts, they’d simply be passing along whatever int’l feed was available to them, albeit likely at a higher level of quality than FSC.

    But let’s be clear about that point. And you definitely weren’t.

    1. Dude, thats EXACTLY what everyone does during league seasons, they pass the feed from europe, especially FSC.

    2. Sam, most of the feeds from Europe are now in HD. The biggest difference between FSC (in HD) and ESPN (in HD) is that almost everyone has access to ESPN HD, but hardly anyone has access to FSC HD. FSC is not in HD on DirecTV or Comcast. ESPN is.

      And if ESPN created a soccer network, it would be available in HD much faster than FSC is.

      The Gaffer

      1. ESPN Classic would be transitioned over (they just flipped the Directv channel # with ESPNU recently from 208 to 614 since no one watches it) In fact this was rumored to happen a few years ago from a few sites.

        But I agree with Panda that it could be 3-4 years before it would even happen.

  7. Well with the rights that ESPN now has to leagues all over the world which are broadcast on ESPN3 or out ESPN outlets the product is there. ESPN has built the audience through it’s coverage of this years World Cup and Euro 2008. so it seems to be the logical next step for a dedicated ESPN Soccer channel. The only thing missing are the studio shows and vast pre/post productions that would make up a dedicated channel. Can any of us wait for Soccer Sports Center. From what we have seen from South Africa ESPN will do it right if they do it.

  8. Best news to date, if it happens. ESPN would swallow up FSC and FSC+…Let’s face it FSC has served its purpose very well over the years but the situation has reached critical mass and FSC cannot keep up anymore. They are stuck in the 70’s. Please ESPN move quickly and give us World Cup quality league football weekly.

  9. ESPN dedicates more of its airtime to MMA than MLS. Hopes of a soccer channel through ESPN suggests the use of medicinal herbs primarily intended for Glaucoma treatment.

    While I’d love to see it, and think ESPN would do fairly well with coverage of soccer across the Americas, they would have to end their love-hate affair with the sport. They love the World Cup, but despise showing MLS with any regularity. Sportscenter never covers MLS, but will have a sit-down recap about Brock Lesnar’s latest fight. They cover horse racing with more regularity than soccer.

    Cant wait to see if the MLS game tonight is pushed back due to LeEgo James’ hour-long suck-fest.

    1. Thats why it makes sense for them to have a dedicated channel. If it comes down to Monday Night Football or a sameday re-run of an EPL game there is only going to be one winner. ESPN will always default to American sports first and so they should. But they must know that they can increase their audience by having a dedicated soccer channel. Give soccer its own space and keep it away from SportsCenter and all that other bullshit. I cringe whenever I see those talking head muppets trying to sound enthused about a meaningless MLS game. Let them stick to what they know, and give us soccer fans our own channel.

  10. Only thing ESPN World Cup coverage is missing is adequate post-match interviews after the whistle. Oddly enough, though, they tend to include this (usually from SKY) on their HD EPL matches, which for some reason FSC cannot seem to accomodate (even though they have an actual corporate connection to SKY).

  11. ESPN have done a fantastic job all around. I keep saying it and I’ll continue to do so. I’m sure they’ll make a channel for soccer down the road but for now they are doing it the right way. If/when they buy the rights to the EPL and maybe even La Liga that could very well solidify a 24/7 channel for them to create.

    With even more EPL games in the future, possibly more Spanish matches as well as some Germany league games on Deportes and all the international tournaments that they cover, things are looking good all around for the network. Everyone needs to just be patient!

  12. this would be great considering ESPN could actually agree to terms with tv carriers and bring us HD on the channel. this is something fox simply cannot do for us football fans, and directv doesnt seem to give a toss about its sports pack subs.

  13. Also, I take great pride and hope in the fact that Megan Fox has failed to rule out the fact that she might marry me at some undetermined point in the future.

  14. I am not so sold on having a soccer-only channel being a good thing for the game here. I doubt that a soccer-only channel will be available on the 1st,2nd or even 3rd tier of cable programming packages. I wouldn’t be surprised if such channel is made available a la carte, keeping soccer status as a niche sport in the country.

  15. It just don’t a all soccer channel,definately from one of the existing channels, if espn does probably a equivilant to FSc, if that’s the case that means higher tier cable, and lesser viewer acess. The only other realistic way for Espn to possibly accommodate soccer and other sports internationally would be a international Espn channel, possiblity a International version of sports center? There already is a candian version from TSN. Latino version, Deportes. I’m not sure if there is a strong enough market for it. Will it matter, I mean the regualr espn sportscenter hardly reports scores from MLs and other soccer leagues unless its a big game or a play of the day or something. If I. Was espn I would develop a international sports pakage for the american market, kinda like a CNN international but its espn.

  16. Yes I. Know espn has international affilites , but they are loosely a net work some just carry the espn brand or just have some espn programming but you really don’t. Have a espni

  17. No one knows if ESPN 3 has the French Ligue 1? I looked for it everywhere and it is not available so far in the US. Why?

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