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Could the US TV Audience for EPL Surpass UK?

During the 2006/2007 season, the average UK TV audience for a Premier League match was 1.18 million, according to the industry newsletter TV Sports Markets.

This compares with an average US TV audience of approximately 300,000 people watching a Premier League match on Fox Soccer Channel.

While there’s a significant gap between the two numbers, it isn’t inconceivable that the United States may surpass the UK in the number of viewers watching Premier League matches. Of course, the US population is far greater than the UK (300 million compared to 60 million). But the groundswell of interest in the US for the English Premier League is taking many, myself included, by surprise.

When the TV rights for the Premier League next become available for bidding — in a few years time — it’ll be interesting to see if ESPN becomes involved in the negotiations. Despite the success of Fox Soccer Channel, it would take an ESPN to bring the game to the masses and to push the TV audience figures to over the 1.18 million mark such as in the UK.

An ideal situation would be to have ESPN, Fox Soccer Channel and Setanta Sports sharing the broadcasts of the games, so ESPN could show live matches during low TV rating hours (early morning Saturday kickoffs, for example), while Fox and Setanta would continue to share the rest of the spoils. Impossible you say? I think not.

However, of most importance is the entertainment level on the pitch. As long as we can continue to see so many exciting matches throughout the season, the league will sell itself in America. Already this season, we’ve seen enthralling encounters between Fulham and Manchester City, Man United and Chelsea, Fulham and Spurs, Liverpool and Chelsea, Portsmouth v Bolton, Spurs against Arsenal, and many more.

Let’s just hope we don’t see the dark period of English football that we encountered last Autumn where the quality of football was dismal. This time around, I don’t see it happening. With Chelsea faltering, Liverpool sputtering and Arsenal flying, Man United has a fight to try to retain the Premier League trophy. And with the emergence of Man City and Aston Villa as new hopes of beating some of the top four teams (as they’ve proven already), right now everything is on target to make this one of the more interesting seasons in recent memory.

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  1. Soccer Guru

    October 2, 2007 at 10:45 am

    No way. ESPN has too many valuable sporting properties that conflict with the EPL to take a chance on something that averages only 300,000 viewers. European football, though I wish it were different is still a niche sport in the US with very little interest outside of a small circle.

    MLS still represents the best hope for the sport becoming more mainstream in America, but through a number of bad managment decisions and the failure of the US to develop a superstar player that window is shutting quickly also, sadly.

  2. eplnfl

    September 30, 2007 at 2:36 pm


    Well made points. And I have stated several times this season on how FSC is making things better.

    However, a ESPN commitment to the EPL will clearly mean that soccer is here to stay and grow the audience beyond anything FSC or Setanta can ever do.

    As others point out the ESPN coverage is likely to no more than a game of the week that does not interefer with it’s mainstream American sports coverage.

  3. dstorm

    September 30, 2007 at 10:21 am

    I for one hope the EPL does not make it to ESPN in the states.

    For the occasional criticism of Fox Soccer Channel, they are finally getting a lot of things right.

    I enjoy watching the games without the annoying scroll bar at the bottom giving results I really don’t care to see.

    I also fear ESPN would be tempted to “Americanize” the sport or “dumb” it down to try and appeal to larger masses (meaning via annoying graphics, etc.)

    I actually am glad the EPL is not totally mainstream in the States — I can enjoy the excellent coverage via Fox Soccer Channel / Setanta, not worry about results being spoiled if I’ve recorded a game for later viewing, etc.

    Let’s hope it remains that way.

  4. Eplnfl

    September 27, 2007 at 7:44 pm


    Your recent comments on the MLS pod should be noted here. We in America have so much to chose from every weekend it’s impossible to take it all in.

    ESPN would only be following the crowd with some sort of EPL broadcast during the week.

    As to rights issues, do not forget the talk of ESPN buying Setanta. To be re branded as ESPN International.

  5. bcjohn02

    September 27, 2007 at 5:59 pm


    The ratings for Euro2008 will be a major indicator I feel if ESPN goes after a game or two for their family of networks. Even then they would have to be close to World Cup levels for them to probably consider it. The only thing ESPN is going to have a major time conceding is the TWI broadcasters as they have to do everything in house.

    I think what we all have to realize is be thankful we are getting the amount of games we are. Not too long ago it wasn’t that high live, or even on a delayed basis.

  6. Eplnfl

    September 27, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    The older ESPN-EPL broadcast should not be any yard stick to today’s audience. What is more telling in my opinion is that ESPN’s Champions League coverage is most likely involving a English team. That is a sign of what ESPN thinks of the interest in English football in the US.

    We are well aware of the recent increase in coverage `of the CL by ESPN as well the MLS, and international matches. ESPN manages during those shows to put out a lot of EPL related news.

    While the early morning Saturday kick-off would be great for ESPN2. Monday night and other mid-week matches would fit into their schedule nicely.

    It’s really only a question of when not if before we see a EPL-ESPN marriage. We should not forgot Euro 2008 in it’s entirety will be on the ESPN family of channels.

  7. soccerTV

    September 27, 2007 at 9:36 am

    You are looking at the wrong country.

    ESPN2 (US) had Monday Night EPL not too long ago. The ratings were not that good: 0.3% average.

    The one country that was on track to past the UK for average TV audience per EPL match was China.

    However, the FAPL got greedy and sold exclusive TV rights to EPL in China to WinTV, which is a pay subscription channel with a hefty price tag of 188 Yuan, or USD $24.

    188 Yuan is about 8-10% of a typical government worker’s salary in China.

    Result? Instead of being available to millions if EPL had chosen to stay with ESPN STAR Sports (ESPN China is available in over 100 million Chinese homes via cable TV, while 2nd choice EPL matches on STAR Sports Asia are sublicensed to free-to-air provincial TV channels), the EPL is now available to less than 100000 Chinese households.

    The EPL’s mistake in China will not go unpunished.

    I asked FC Barcelona president Joan Laporta about La Liga’s plans in China 3 months ago when he was at Stanford for a lecture.

    Laporta told me that the TV audience for the Barcelona-Real Madrid “clasico” in China was 20 times the TV audience for the match in Spain: 5 million households in China vs. 250,000 households in Spain.

    Barca-Real pulled in 5 million households in China at 5am local time.


    Barca-Real aired on a free-to-air channel in China.

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