I Want My US MNT-TV!

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We might need another one of these to actually see the US qualify for the WC.

We might need another one of these to actually see the US qualify for the WC.

Another round of qualifying, another struggle to watch our beloved USMNT from the comfy confines of our own home.

August brought us US-MEX on a channel (mun2) that was beamed into approximately 16 households until a groundswell of outrage led to a free preview of said channel (along with some awful commercials).

Now, according to Steve Goff of The Washington Post, October will likely find American homes shutout completely from watching a game where they US could clinch a World Cup berth.  To make a long story short, the rights to the broadcast are owned by a closed circuit television distributor (which I had no idea still exist) and they claim that the networks had no interest in broadcasting the game even for less than $1mm.

So what can we do? As Jason Davis over at Match Fit USA points out, this isn’t the same situation as mun2-gate. as there is no “target” for our outrage; if a broadcaster doesn’t want to buy, they don’t want to buy it.

Yesterday, I had an email exchange with the Roger Huguet, CEO of Imagina US, who represents the closed circuit rights holder and was mentioned in Steven Goff’s article. Huguet told me that his clients may be open to the possibility of a live English broadcast if ESPN (or one of the other networks) were willing to negotiate. In other words, any fan campaign to try and get the game broadcast live into our homes should be directed at the networks. (In the event we are stymied, Roger offered to send me the list of all the bars throughout the country showing the game live to publish on TSG.)

I think the issue (at least for ESPN) is that the game is on a Saturday. While a Saturday game day is generally preferred to a mid-week tilt by US soccer fans, it runs up against the money-making machine of college football on ESPN / ESPN2. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that even if ESPN got the game for free, they still couldn’t broadcast it on ESPN / ESPN2 due to contractual obligations with college football games.

What about ESPN Classic? My guess there is that becomes a financial decision. A (“less than”) $1mm price tag may seem like a pittance to the World Wide Leader, but the numbers would still have to pencil out as a stand-alone broadcast on ESPN Classic. (I don’t think American Gladiator re-runs from the 1990s carry the same cost to broadcast.)

Seems like a perfect situation for Fox Sports Channel, no?

Given the run soccer has had in America the last 4-plus months, it would be an absolute step back for the sport if a game of this magnitude can’t be seen on broadcast television. Here’s where I think US Soccer or a major sponsor (the Swoosh, perhaps?) should step-up and do whatever it takes. Consider this a loss leader (USSF) or a marketing expense (Nike) and give the game away to whatever widely distributed channel will have it. In the end, no one cares if it is on ESPN, Versus, The Food Network or Oxygen.

We just want our US MNT-TV!

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by pckilgore on 2009/09/13 at 1:15 PM

    If you think mun2 commercials were bad, imagine the ones on Oxygen!

    The problem with this situation is its hard to get upset with major sports distributors on matters that really come down to pure economics. Trust me, if ESPN thought enough people would watch the game they would buy the rights in a heartbeat. Look how quickly they moved to fill Saturday mornings with EPL games once they discovered that market.

    As soccer fans, the best thing we can do is make a lot of noise and hope that someone notices. Hell even those stupid tea party people got national media attention. If it was up to me (US Soccer are you listening?) I would buy CC subscriptions for each of the major cities in the US and put the game on a big projector in a public place and instead of getting upset about the limited broadcast, embrace it and use it as a reason to bring fans of the game together, and maybe start building a coherent national soccer community beyond what the folks at AO and SA are trying to do. Besides, an event like that would bring media attention to both the game, the team, and its complete lack of coverage on national TV. Sounds like taking a lemon, and making lemonade.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/09/13 at 2:27 PM

      I have to believe there is also some negotiating going on here.

      By driving outrage among fans, it puts pressure on broadcasters to pay up the rate asked for by the CC distributor.

      Remember, their asset in this case is perishable–not many folks will want to watch only a replay of this game and not many folks will want to rewatch this game–so they have every vested interest in selling it as many times as possible before the event date.

      While we may want to put pressure on the networks to carry this event, I have to imagine some blame as well has to be put on USSF.

      According to Goff in his piece, he quotes the USSF “response” as follows: According to the USSF: “The Honduran federation chose to sell the U.S. television rights to the match, in both English and Spanish, to MediaPro and, to our understanding, did not place on them any obligation to resell the English-language rights to this particular game to a third party.”

      Does USSF have any rights or leverage in the TV conversation? Should they have any rights? I have to find out, but I have to imagine if you have the brand equity of a being an American team and you’re flying your players into a hostile environment, you should at least be able to mandate that your fans have the right to watch the game.

      I imagine the issue is keeping that clause quiet so as not to disrupt negotiations, but I feel the USSF–and honestly there may be a rule or something I don’t know about–should have some say in that. No?

      Perhaps the best way–and I’m not suggesting this as an action, only for reasons of debate–to impact this situation going forward is to threaten to boycott US home games. Yes, I just said that.

      What if fans said, you know what, we’re not going to buy tickets to Rio Tinto or RFK unless you guarantee that future US games out of country have some manner (TV or internet) of reaching fans in a live form.

      Has Gulati spoken on this issue?

      TSG will try to reach him tomorrow, because we’d love to hear his commentary. Mind you were not holding anyone accountable since we don’t know the situation, but his commentary would certainly shed more light on what’s going on.

      Reply

  2. Posted by kaya on 2009/09/13 at 2:51 PM

    Come on, not even espn360.com?

    Reply

  3. Posted by Bata on 2009/09/13 at 7:24 PM

    Do you have the contact information for those who would be influential with this? Also, some sort of form letter that could be copied/pasted would help many of us to let people know what we think.

    I tend to have to record the shows for later viewing due to my kids’ games. Right now I am finally watching the Chelsea/Stoke game.

    I suppose some sort of #USMNTonESPN could be created for twitter if they follow that trend.

    Willing to help. Just let me know how my insignificant self can.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Kevin U. on 2009/09/13 at 8:29 PM

    It’s unbelievable that we are the only country that has almost no care in the world for our USMNT…Theres more hype over Little league baseball than something as big as a World Cup Qualifier it’s ridiculous

    Reply

  5. I think CONCACAF should own the broadcast rights to all the WC qualifiers for our region just like FIFA owns the broadcast rights to the WC finals in SA. They could then find a sponsor for the whole series and bid out the broadcasts to the networks. Seems like this kind of thing should be handled at the beginning of the qualifying process not right at the most critical stage. Good work TSG. Let us know if there is anything we can do.

    Don’t Tread on Me!

    Reply

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