For better or worse, the days of afternoon NBA Finals are over. Long gone are the afternoons where I would rush home after school to catch Major League Baseball playoff games. The vast majority of important matches in the traditional US leagues are scheduled for 8pm “starts” with actual game play beginning up to an hour later. Add in additional commercials, ever increasing timeouts and delays, and you have later starting games testing even the longest attention spans. One league, the NFL, seems to be the exception and despite recent hiccups, its popularity has never been bigger.
Anecdotal evidence would seem to suggest fewer people are watching these late starting games, but the ratings say otherwise. It would seem more young people are attracted to the star power of leagues like the NBA, but at the same time the English game of soccer has never been more popular. What gives?
The answer is simply increased access to all sports via the Internet and expanding television offerings. Fans today simply have it all. Fans can watch anything and everything via the magic of streaming video and DVR. The Premier League fan in the United States, with the right cable and Internet packages, can watch every single game and most domestic cup matches. This is a privilege English fans could only dream of. The concept of even your local team’s matches on free broadcast TV in England is non-existent. Any team’s Internet message board on match day surely has a thread to track legal and illegal Internet streams. European fans of even the biggest clubs are forced to hunt for dodgy streams seemingly in every language but English.
For US readers, who hasn’t stumbled out of bed, poured some coffee, and enjoyed waking up to their favorite English footballers on live TV and then gone on to enjoy the day? Or maybe your most hated footballers ruined your day. Either way it’s just about the best way to start your weekend. Morning and early afternoon starts are a genius idea that was no idea at all. We can thank the rotation of the earth and geography. Americans have stumbled into goldmine of daytime action that happens to be the beautiful game.
So what does this mean for the future? Well the future is now. The future is NBC and their initial promise to air or stream every EPL match live. The marketing power and commitment from NBC, who have relatively few major sports obligations, can only help the league grow in the United States. A major broadcast network showing every match live and inevitably showing replays in prime time or late afternoons will grow soccer’s fan base.