Taking a cue from Ginge (which I try not to make a habit of), I've decided to address some TV news just released today; per Fox, the 2010 UEFA Champions League Final will be broadcast on their over-the-air flagship station, and ESPN has announced that a deal with Fox Sports International will allow them to broadcast 83 English Premier League matches, up from the 48 shown this season.
Wow. That's pretty exciting stuff if you're a fan of the European game, and the UCL announcement alone has many buzzing about the potential rating the match could do. Between ABC's broadcast of the England-USA World Cup match and the Champions League Final, 2010 should be the biggest ratings year in the history of soccer TV in America.
But as Ginge points out, there's a disappointing issue with all of this; while Americans can now watch more European (and therefore top class) soccer than ever before, domestic league matches are frustratingly far less available. Sure, you can buy the league's Direct Kick package if you'd like, or pony up a smaller fee for the Internet version; but as more and more Americans discover the sport, it's worrying that they can watch a foreign product much more easily than our own American league.
I get it. I understand why English football is popular here in the States, and I generally don't blame fans for gravitating to the richest league in the world. The language is the same, the players are recognizable, and quality of play is obviously top notch. I also don't blame ESPN, FSC, or any other television concern for leveraging American interest in English soccer. Still, I have to wonder if all of this Euro love is stunting American soccer.
"Here in the US, it's easier to watch an EPL match than it is to watch a match in our own domestic league."
MLS will always remain a second class citizen in the United States as long as it's taking a back seat to leagues from distant shores. While the lack of visibility and money constraints are the major reasons for that situation now, television will play a large part in the future. Though watching the English game (thanks to the time difference) doesn't preclude people from watching MLS as well, the juxtaposition of the two does the American product no favors.
Some of the blame for the situation certainly falls to MLS. Ginge believes MLS has been ineffective in marketing themselves; I think that's true to a point, though I'd argue that the league's hands are tied in many cases. At least they're making money from television now.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited for more EPL matches in HD on ESPN and a Saturday Champions League Final on Fox. But there's a part of me that wonders if the explosion of European soccer coverage in the US is doing more harm than good; while it's nice that our soccer-playing kids can now watch the best in the world do their thing (and hopefully pick up a thing or two), it won't matter if our domestic league can't gain enough traction to be a proper place for those kids to develop and play.
TV money is the lifeblood of any professional sports league. MLS needs more, but it's the European leagues that are getting the most exposure.