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Can ESPN grow LaLiga in the United States?

In the NEW episode, number 228, Christopher Harris and co-host Kartik Krishnaiyer cover a range of topics including:

• ESPN tasked with growing LaLiga in United States – can they do it? With the broadcaster having spent 1.4 billion dollars on the rights to the Spanish league until 2029, ESPN has made a major investment in trying to grow LaLiga. Yes, Barcelona and Real Madrid are already household names, but will the broadcaster be able to attract a large number of new fans? And if so, how will they do it? We can expect to hear more from ESPN in the coming weeks, but the other discussion point is what ESPN’s acquisition of LaLiga rights means for their coverage of the other leagues they have the rights to, and the other rights they may bid on, which could open up opportunities for CBS Sports and Paramount+ to acquire more rights that ESPN used to have in the past.

• In a story that we broke first, the U.S. rights to the Scottish Premiership are on the move again. The top-flight Scottish league has bounced around so many different streaming providers in recent years, but their new home now has the league for the next four seasons. Will it have an impact on growing the audience in the United States? We debate the topic on this podcast.

• With the world of cord cutting becoming more the norm, how has this impacted our viewing of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and its coverage of soccer and other sports? We go into more detail about what our experiences have been like.

• We also discuss the steps that Qatar have made to turn their national team into a force, as well as discussing whether fans of the United States Men’s National Team will ever be satisfied with the performances of the team in competitions. Is the bar raised too high?

• We delve into a number of other topics too, including why Borussia Dortmund and PSG have so many fans in the United States, but the viewership numbers for those games don’t match up with the interest in the team.

Listen to the show via the player above or via this link.

Launched in 2006, the World Soccer Talk Podcast is the longest running podcast on the planet. Every week, we share the latest news about watching soccer on television and streaming, in addition to discussing what we like and dislike, and featuring your questions and feedback in our Listener Mailbag segment.

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35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. Michelangelo

    August 6, 2021 at 8:22 am

    The only place that will make sense for Messi to go is the Italian Serie A. Paramount Plus just got the rights this year and especially in your opening year you need a bang and Messi can up the rating tremendously for the network. Fans can also see the Italian classico if Messi and Ronaldo face each other in the Serie A. Huge ratings and story line can be made here and it’s the obvious choice for him. I would love to see Messi in a Napoli jersey since Maradona played there and won the title as well. Can Messi win a title outside of Barcelona? Will this be Messi’s last year? What are your opinions about Messi Leaving Barcelona? Will Messi be a good candidate for the Serie A? Thank you so much everyone and Forza Napoli!!!

  2. Azer

    August 6, 2021 at 1:00 am

    Lionel Messi leaving FC Barcelona is a huge blow to ESPN+ and it’s La Liga coverage. If Messi joins PSG, beIN Sports will have the last laugh. The same applies to NBC/Comcast if Messi joins Manchester City. Mickey Mouse is at a store stocking up on Kleenex.

  3. vinnie jones

    August 5, 2021 at 5:16 pm

    if messi joins PSG it may finally be a legit CL contender, however faces the same issue, plays all those matches against a dearth of competition, then can’t turn it on when it has to…. no different to celtic and rangers, except there is a bit more quality amongst the also-rans in france

    messi not resigning is a bit surprising, finally laliga is taking ffp seriously, or at least it appears that way today.

  4. Ra

    August 5, 2021 at 3:01 pm

    It will be interesting to see if Mbappe changes his mind about leaving PSG should he have Neymar and Messi as teammates.

  5. JP

    August 5, 2021 at 2:54 pm

    @locofooty, my thoughts as well when the Messi news broke. Generally not a fan of ESPN so find it funny the leagues main draw might (I’ll believe it when I see it!) leave. Would be such irony if he joins PSG and makes those games must watch on beIN….Messi, Neymar, Mbappe, oh my! Plus Sergio Ramos for more star power and Euro 202o hero Donnarumma.

  6. locofooty

    August 5, 2021 at 2:41 pm

    Messi is gone. Does BeIN look smart or what? lol. Will ABC still show the first round game? La Liga takes a hit in value. Barca could get an up and coming star with the money saved, but the league definitely loses with this. It’s going to be interesting.

  7. vinnie jones

    August 5, 2021 at 2:09 pm

    some unusual comments about laliga, it is almost like there is confusion between the silly scottish premier (only 10 team league with just legitimate contenders) and the great entertainment of laliga. for those that don’t know, the sunday night matchup is usually the best game of the w/e. because there hasn’t been any competition in this timeslot across europe it attracts the largest european viewership of the w/e…and it’s a late kickoff – 9pm spanish time.

    so it competes against the NFL in the fall, but if the networks are offering a crap nfl game, there will now be a great alternative.

  8. disco george

    August 4, 2021 at 4:39 pm

    So you all asked about the Olympics.
    I’ve mentioned before that I am a huge gymnastics fan… well, NBC’s Olympics coverage has been all over the place. Peacock ended up being annoying af — you’d get a notification saying that the event was coming up, but they never actually put up the dedicated streams. I ended up bookmarking the gymnastics page on NBCOlympics.com and then going there to watch the streams through my browser because I did NOT feel like dealing with Peacock’s shenanigans at 3 and 4 am.
    While they did have a cool multiple-apparatus stream so you could watch four apparatuses at once during the women’s events, there were way too many commercials randomly popping up like right in the middle of someone’s routine. My thoughts on the prime time coverage are basically unpublishable — they couldn’t be bothered to show all the event medalists, and they missed a lot of the important moments.
    Maybe they’re doing better with other events that are actually happening during US prime time, but I think coverage has degraded a lot, even just since 2016. Theoretically, Peacock should have augmented things, but it ended up just making things more confusing for people between knowing which ‘channel’ to tune into, if they should use the NBC Sports app, stream on a web browser, or just wait 16 hours later for prime time coverage.

  9. Rich

    August 1, 2021 at 5:37 pm

    Rey Hudson tweeted out that he left Bein Sports!

  10. Azer

    July 31, 2021 at 7:27 pm

    For those of you who have been following the Bundesliga for years, even decades, you might remember commentator Alan Fountain. He was absent for many years, the last time I heard his voice was in the mid 2000’s or so when the Bundesliga was on GOLTV. Today, I was watching an international friendly Wolfsburg vs Atletico Madrid on ESPN3 with Alan Fountain doing commentary. I was very happy to hear his voice after so many years. I emailed the Bundesliga to ask if he’s returning to the Bundesliga world feed for the upcoming 2021/22 season and if they can show a video or a picture of him on their website. I have not heard back, when I do I will let you know.

  11. dave

    July 31, 2021 at 4:22 pm

    @JP, thanks for the interesting ideas. I back-envelope think of Disney as having a growth strategy for ESPN+ and a preserve strategy for ESPN/2. You make a good point that ESPN+ has a large subscriber base, perhaps making preserve a component of the ESPN+ strategy
    .
    Another thought is Disney may see opportunities to drive increased streaming in the Hispanic market (compete with Prende) and plan to use La Liga as one component in that pursuit
    .
    Would be fun to be a fly on the wall to listen/watch the final meeting where they decided to bid $1.4 billion. No doubt there is a business case. I am intrigued as to how it will play out

  12. Raul Zarco

    July 31, 2021 at 2:37 pm

    Another Great Podcast!!
    I appreciate all of your thoughts and insights!!
    Keep up the Great work!!

  13. Ra

    July 31, 2021 at 9:58 am

    The other piece to the puzzle is advertising revenue. They may be able to pay for the rights with it alone.
    They certainly did not paid that much without having sound financials to support it.

  14. JP

    July 31, 2021 at 9:16 am

    @dave, I like the way you broke out the break even analysis for ESPN on La Liga. Would think roughly 2 million subs would be on the upper end of realistic expectations (would have to see how they increased after Serie A and Bundesliga to really gage). However, of those potential subscribers, there’s probably many who already subscribe because of the other leagues ESPN+ carries. Therefore looks like it will be very difficult for them to break even on La Liga growth taken alone.
    A more nuanced analysis might be the net cost of adding La Liga minus the savings from the leagues they’ve let expire.
    On the other hand, fans of those other leagues that ESPN+ let go might be considered subscribers “saved” because without La Liga they may have not renewed (I’m in that boat, NHL and La Liga kept me on board after losing Serie A). Can argue we are contributing to that incremental 2M subs they need, in a round about way.

  15. Fechin Attuah

    July 31, 2021 at 1:50 am

    Great podcast like always guys, haven’t watched in a long time ever since the soccer leagues ended around may. I haven’t really watched the Olympics mainly soccer due to it starting around 4Am EST so I watch the replays on peacock. The peacock subscription has increased to 20M subs and will expand to Europe. I will keep peacock due to the new agreement with INDYCAR simulcasting all their races on peacock/NBC/USA network but I just got sling tv since the new deal with TNT/TBS and the NHL, they said NHL games will be on hbomax but we just don’t know when and the premier league matches on NBCSN which I thought they will move matches on USA. What I do see happening is that in 2022 when NBCSN shutdown, some the matches will move to peacock simulcast live on peacock while the rest are peacock exclusively. NASCAR could eventually put some races on peacock exclusively in 2025 or maybe sooner so I will still subscribe. If I had to rank my streaming services.
    1. Hbomax 2. ESPN plus/Disney/Hulu bundle 3.Paramount plus 4. Netflix 5.Peacock 6. F1tvpro 7.Prime
    Netflix has been slacking in content and the price increase doesn’t help but gaming will come next year so we will see how it goes. So basically I got it for free since last week for the T-mobile magenta phone plan was included per one screen so it’s okay.

  16. dave

    July 31, 2021 at 1:43 am

    Enjoyable podcast, as usual
    .
    1. Had a good laugh at myself – I am “that guy” you describe as NBC’s ideal Olympics viewer. Watching NBC all evening while using my iPad to catch glimpses of multiple smaller sports with NBC Sports app
    .
    2. I struggle to see how ESPN earns back $1.4 billion on La Liga. I agree with @Mercator that they will likely heavily promote a few key players/teams. But at $7/month, they need 200 million incremental ESPN+ subscriber-months to break even. Best case is 96 subscriber-months per person, requiring ~2 million new-to-ESPN+ subscribers. In reality, they need a lot more since many new subscribers will not pay nonstop for all 8 years. I must be missing something

  17. Mercator

    July 30, 2021 at 8:49 pm

    @Roberto If College Football is anything to go by, ESPN would not only be first in line for Super League rights, they would secure exclusive rights early and then actively work to destroy the national leagues and encourage big clubs to join the Super League to increase the value of those rights.

    @Azer I don’t get this impression, it seems like ESPN has a plan for La Liga. I think someone there finally realised just how huge Madrid and Barca are in the US. They are a perfect platform for ESPN soccer coverage, because ESPN can pretend only Madrid (Mbappe/Haaland) and Barca (Messi) exist, while promoting their own properties on ESPN+ in English and Spanish. I watch the NBA and you can already tell some ESPN executive smacked his forehead and realised they can just do the same thing with soccer – relentlessly promote the 2-3 biggest teams and players in the world, which are still in La Liga.

  18. Edwin

    July 30, 2021 at 4:45 pm

    I think ESPN is settling on Quality and not quantity. I think They settle on carrying fewer soccer leagues that they don’t see really driving their streaming subscription base long term. That’s MLS/Bundesliga/La Liga. It’s no coincidence they locked up La Liga and Bundesliga similarly to the type of long term deal like they’ve long done with MLS.

  19. Roberto

    July 30, 2021 at 4:00 pm

    The top two teams still hope to form a European super league. Would ESPN be first in line to get the rights for that monstrosity!
    What Mercator said about the Canada Mexico game was not harsh enough. Mexico should forfeit the game! This is where FIFA needs to take strong stands.

  20. Ra

    July 30, 2021 at 3:56 pm

    I don’t understand the obsession with the growth of the leagues. Without having any vested interest, it suffices to be able to watch the ones I like.

  21. Azer

    July 30, 2021 at 3:23 pm

    Let’s be honest folks, ESPN would rather show you bowling or a hot dog eating contest than a game from La Liga. A game in the early morning hours like ESPN did with Serie A is not growing the league. Also putting a game or two on ESPNEWS would be terrible idea as it’s a third tier channel and millions of people don’t have it. ESPN telling people to subscribe to ESPN+ does not grow La Liga. It grows Disney’s bank account/profit.

  22. Mercator

    July 30, 2021 at 12:46 pm

    I like Dortmund and respect what they do, but the casual American BVB fan is basically a meme at this point. Its a safe choice – not seen as bandwagoning unlike Bayern, still a good team, young players, cool kit. This is the classic European team for big MLS fans and every BVB fan thinks they have an inside track on the next big USMNT talent. I’m not surprised they have good ratings. PSG is the global version and for the sort of shameless bandwagoners who wear knockoff Jordan tracksuits everywhere but can’t even juggle a ball. I’m not surprised their fans don’t bring great ratings, they are probably on twitter spamming Penaldo and Pessi back and forth at each other whenever a match is ongoing. Inter Miami had amazing potential to be a good bandwagon PSG type club, but even casual fans see fat Higuain walking around for an hour and want no part in that.

    NBC’s olympics coverage has been diabolical. It’s never been great, but the commercials are out of control and absolutely disrespectful to the sport, the athletes and the games themselves. It’s obnoxious to the point where I just have found myself turning it off, although part of this is down to the timezone and NBC’s inability to make clear where LIVE events are and where taped events are. The Olympics should be free to air and watch, and commercials should not be run during the actual competitions. Nothing is sacred anymore, write your congressperson if you can.

    On a more positive note, I thought Canada and Qatar put on a really good show last night. Some great play, some awful play, awful reffing all around, terrible Mexican fans and CONCACAF paying people cash in hand to pretend to support Qatar for TV. It’s ridiculous, but CONCACAF does grow on you and I’ve found the Gold Cup much better than I expected.

  23. jason

    July 30, 2021 at 11:18 am

    To comment on Kartik’s thoughts about CONCACAF/COMMENBOL. I think we have a 24 team Copa America every 4 years at the same time as the Euros without the 2 federations combining together. They can be 2 different things.

  24. Ra

    July 30, 2021 at 11:15 am

    Soccer rights are inexpensive vis-a-vis NFL, MHL, etc.
    It has more to do with their ability to make money with these rights than their financial ability to pay for it.

  25. Ra

    July 30, 2021 at 11:04 am

    Great podcast, Gents!
    This time I am hardly watching the Olympics compared to other editions. I was abroad during the coverage of the last couple of editions and the coverage I got was infinitely better than NBC’s. It is appalling to me how bad they can be. Besides, the timezone difference does not help, as I like to watch live events.
    I watched a bit this morning on NBCSN and they were petulant enough to air an ad in the middle of the 1500m heat 2 free swimming. Turned the TV off immediately. It really bothers me to be targeted by obstructive ads. Even with the ‘official’ Olympics schedule in hand, it is hard to figure out where to locate it. I go from Sling to NBC OTA to NBC Sports App and still can’t find it in many cases. I deleted Peacock from my devices (10+ considering both streaming and mobile) and I pledged myself never to install it again.
    Regarding streaming platforms, my favorites are:
    1. Paramount+: very broad and good soccer coverage (UCL, Brasileirao, Serie A, Argentinean) + good news coverage + Smithsonian docs + lots of content for the kids.
    2. Disney combo: good and broad soccer coverage (Bundesliga, LaLiga), good docs in NatGeo, 6-8 different language options in Disney+ depending on the program, Hulu TV shows. Content for the whole family.
    3. HBOMax: their mini-series and TV shows are unparalleled. Best movies of any service, including plenty from Criterion Collection (Kurosawa, Bergman, Fellini, Wenders). Their library is amazing and I get it for ‘free’ from ATT Fiber. They lack sports, but if they acquire EPL they may contend with my #1 and #2. EPL is probably the only league that would justify having a single sports asset in the library; I don’t see any players starting in Sports with just the Eredivisie, for example.
    4. Netflix
    5. Tablo/FireTV recast. I will occasionally tape something in either device.
    That’s it for me. I will do Sling for the WC and Olympics only. I add the sports channels to my favorites and don’t even bother with the rest. I am also willing to pay not to watch ads, so cable, PlutoTV, Tubi, Peacock, and the likes are an absolute no for me.

  26. Michelangelo

    July 30, 2021 at 10:33 am

    @Jason I’m stating it as the fact that Disney has Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic, Hulu, ESPN, ABC, some parts of FOX. It’s incredible on that standpoint. I do agree that the new CEO is not up to par with Iger. It’s crazy if Disney gets the Premier League but a very slim chance. Disney is a power house and a universe like no other. When it comes to sports their not always the greatest with coverage but it’s amazing on what they have achieved. It’s disappointing that Disney lost the rights to the Italian Serie A. Oh well let’s see what Paramount can do. Thank you for the comment much appreciated.

  27. jason

    July 30, 2021 at 10:31 am

    Kartik says CNN content is all over HBO Max….well I’ll never buy that service then.

  28. jason

    July 30, 2021 at 10:18 am

    @Michelangelo Bob Chapek the new Disney CEO is actually rather cheap. What you are referencing is all Bob Iger stuff. They overpaid for the Fox content big time. And Fox is using the money for that sale to invest in other things. Comcast smartly got into a bidding war for the Fox content not because they were trying to get it but to force Disney to up their $$$ and put them in a bigger hoel. So Comcast may yet have an advtange over Disney to get the Premier League and maybe even the EFL next year.

  29. Michelangelo

    July 30, 2021 at 9:53 am

    Absolutely the Serie A did an amazing job so why not LaLiga. My only main concern is that the most important matches like El Classico need to be televised on ABC. This also includes the Copa Del Rey Final as well. It’s insane how Disney buys everything nowadays!!!!!

  30. Michael

    July 30, 2021 at 9:29 am

    @Chris Guardiano. Fox has FoxSportsGo already yet up and running. Most of what it is used for is to access services that are authenticated through cable…but they have put content on there in the past. It is fully cable of hosting content just like ESPN+ today…if they choose to use it that way. They have never used it that way….because they have never offered any streaming only content. It is fully functional, I used to be able access the Yankee games on it when I was in the region. The misconception is that Fox doesn’t have a streaming app. They have any app….they just don’t have a service. They sold most of their movies and shows to Disney+/Hulu and so far most of their sports have all been on the OTT channels

  31. jason

    July 30, 2021 at 9:16 am

    I have ESPN+ but I’ll be watching the German Bundesliga and English Football League content that they have far more than La Liga. Spainish league NEVER interested me.

  32. Roberto

    July 30, 2021 at 8:28 am

    Why should it be important to grow La Liga in the U.S.? European leagues belong to European countries. I am against this kind of football imperialism.

  33. Chris Guardiano

    July 29, 2021 at 11:54 pm

    Hi Guys,
    When it comes to the Olympics, I haven’t been able to watch much of it when it comes to soccer apart from the USWNT and the Mexico vs South Africa match on the men’s side. The main reason like you mentioned in the pod is because NBC seems to change the schedule at the last minute for most of the sports including soccer, making it very difficult to find the match I want to watch. Peacock isn’t useful at all because I have to wait 24 hours after the match has concluded in order to watch the full match replay.
    As for streaming services, I am with Chris in that I will cancel my Peacock subscription if NBC somehow loses the Premier League. While we are on this topic my question to either of you is: What are your thoughts on Fox’s streaming service called Tubi and do you think Fox will use them as part of their coverage going forward?

  34. JP

    July 29, 2021 at 9:02 pm

    ESPN getting La Liga was a no brainer. Outside of EPL this is one of the only leagues that can actually drive subscriptions. You have the multitude of hard core Real Madrid and Barcelona fans plus the casual fans who want to see Messi (and next season probably Mbappe too) on a regular basis.
    I doubt they’ll grow the entire league though with the casual fans. The one benefit of beIN was how their shows such as Xtra and Locker Room did a great job of showing enthusiasm (most notably Ray Hudson) for the lesser known teams and players. Fans who may have subscribed to beIN just to see Barca and Real also got an education from the likes of Ray, Kay, Dre, and Phil.
    With it being on ESPN+ there’s probably less chance of this happening among the casuals who will click on the Barca or Real match but not seek out the bumper programming. Also, less apt to serendipitously stumble upon a match like Alaves v Getafe expecting they’ll just watch a few minutes but end up staying for the entirety because the quality and entertainment is so good.
    As a casual fan of Bundesliga this has been my experience since they moved to ESPN+. Only made a point to watch a few matches last season whereas when it was on FS1/FS2 would often flip on during a break in Serie A/La Liga action and many times would end up with that being my main match for a large portion of the overlap.
    Finally, Eredivisie better stay with ESPN or go to Paramount because I love that league and don’t want a 3rd streaming service to be necessary to watch it. Probable it will fall by the wayside if it goes elsewhere (Serie A and La Liga are my only must haves for domestic leagues)

  35. Ra

    July 29, 2021 at 8:04 pm

    Not a big fan of Prime since Bezos flew that giant male genitalia to space and thanked us all for paying for it.

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