Starting in 2023, the US Soccer media broadcast rights are back in-house. As part of the Federation’s offer to broadcasters, US Soccer included the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
This strategic decision features one of the oldest domestic cup competitions in the world. However, it is also among the most obscure.
This inclusion represents a significant pivot in the marketing of the Lamar Hunt Open Cup from the past. Then, US Soccer did very little promotion of the competition. Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing did not include the US Open Cup in its package. Rather, the bundle focused on the US Men’s and Women’s National Team rights. For many years, streams of early round Lamar Hunt Open Cup matches were few and far between.
Here is how the US Open Cup aligns in a potential media deal sought after by US Soccer.
Lamar Hunt US Open Cup
As the name indicates, the Lamar Hunt Open Cup is available to any applicant club in the United States. Each year, the tournament provides stories of of giant-killings by amateur clubs. Additionally, some lower-league professional sides make deep runs.
The winner of the Lamar Hunt Open Cup earns a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League. Therefore, in theory, the competition is a direct path to qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup. It is the most open and accessible soccer competition on the men’s side in the United States.
Unfortunately, the Lamar Hunt Open Cup exists in obscurity outside a small niche. In terms of streaming and television, the competition’s coverage has been inconsistent. Awareness is minimal, even for soccer fans who love similar cup competitions in Europe. It’s a midweek competition that failed to find a niche except among a small number of “hipster” fans of the domestic game.
But, its potential seems unlimited particularly in a nation that loves straight knock-out competitions and playoffs. It also potentially could interest fans of European soccer, particularly those who revere the FA Cup and other domestic cup competitions.
The US Open Cup in US Soccer’s media deal
In our recent interview with US Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone, she revealed US Soccer’s next broadcast package includes the Lamar Hunt Open Cup. Currently, the Federation negotiates that deal with potential media partners.
The US Open Cup provides broadcast potential via an abundance of matches throughout the calendar year. The competition runs from March to September and qualifying begins in late September for the following year’s cup.
Broadcasters can get creative with how they use the Lamar Hunt Open Cup. Previously, wraparound shows on radio and podcasts go through all the action at once. Early round Lamar Hunt Open Cup nights are like final match days of top European leagues. Simultaneous kickoffs allow the US Open Cup broadcast potential for a ‘Premier League Goal Rush‘-style whip-around program.
In the past, the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup rights were sold on a piecemeal basis. Fans had little advance notice of broadcast partners. Also, many matches did not air on neither TV nor streaming. In recent years, while more matches have been aired on ESPN+, the details of the package are murky. Furthermore, promotion of the competition has been negligible.
Fans of tournament-style competitions
The US Open Cup has broadcast potential similar to NCAA’s March Madness. Many college basketball fans do not watch the regular season. Regardless, millions fill out brackets and watch the tournament each year. The NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments are rapid, only lasting a month. Of course, the US Open Cup differs in that regard.
However, Americans fall in love with long, drawn-out playoffs in the NBA and NHL. There, over half the eligible teams qualify. The Lamar Hunt Open Cup potentially provides domestic soccer with its best chance to cut through the clutter of other sporting competitions.
For its part, MLS values knock-out cup competitions. After all, the entire league hitched its wagon to a playoff system to determine a champion. Also, the enhanced Leagues Cup in 2023 competes with the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup for attention.
Moreover, MLS clubs have won every Lamar Hunt US Open Cup since 2000. Still, in each of those competitions, a lower-division club has made a deep run. Those clubs provide the ‘Cinderella stories’ that hook new fans.
Incorporating the tournament into a broadcast rights deal
US Soccer opting to include Lamar Hunt Open Cup in a larger media rights deal potentially gives the competition a larger window to where it can become more visible. The competition needs sponsorship dollars to enhance its profile, along with a consistent television or streaming presence, but the inclusion of it in a larger package can only help.
The potential of the Lamar Hunt Open Cup being part of a larger media rights deal is very encouraging. Perhaps finally this “sleeping giant” of a competition will get its day and grow in a fashion that’s fitting for such a historic cup in a nation where the sport continues to grow by leaps and bounds.
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