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.