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!