This piece is hopefully just Part 1 in the series.
Just like you were, TSG was extremely frustrated by the recent news that the USMNT would not be playing on an easily clickable channel come October 10th. Should the game still be played in Honduras, TSG and all the rest of the USMNT fans are currently on the outside looking in.
So we decided to do a little sleuthing, a little digging and ended up with mostly a lot of head scratching.
One thing this situation is *not* is unique. Apparently, the English vs. Ukraine Cup qualifier is also suspended in it’s own dilemna with the only option to watch the game currently being the world wide web-o-sphere for a cost per feed. Across message boards and blogs overseas it has been “reported” that a figure of $1.3M for the rights to the event was rejected. You can be sure if a $1.3M price tag is too high for the Three Lions then, anything approaching $1M for the U.S. should also be out of range.
Here is the litany of players and peripheral players we reached out to try and get a better understanding of the media situation over here:
- The U.S. Soccer Federation, USMNT spokesperson
- Media World (Rights owner)
- Traffic Sports (Traffic Sports is a player in WCQ rights management, but does not own this specific game)
- Perform Sports (Not a player here, but owner of many Internet rights to WCQ games around the globe)
- CONCACAF (still awaiting feedback)
- FIFA (general email to perhaps the right contact)
Upon all of our phoning and gmailing, we sadly don’t have as much for you as we’d like.
What we can tell you, you already know: This is one convoluted situation, where money rules and there is no vested interest in anyone outside of the rights holders (Media World) on commenting on the situation until it is settled or the match concludes.
In short, after speaking with Media World last week and again this week, TSG has only been able to chat with the U.S. Soccer Federation and ESPN as part of our “mission” to our fans.
U.S. Soccer was downright hospitable in fielding our inquiry. An email to Sunil Gulati produced a response 20 minutes later that directed us to Neil Buethe, the Senior Manager of Communications. After some scheduling, we were able to chat with Neil just a day and a half later. (Note: We didn’t ask Sunil many other questions or bring up the subject of “attire.”)
Here’s the little we learned from the U.S. Soccer Fed:
- A company called Traffic Sports typically handles most of the TV rights in North and South America. The current company, Media World, which purchased the rights to the Honduras game has not been a major player to date in negotiating viewing of WCQ games.
(Traffic Sports was nice enough to grant TSG an interview request for this coming Friday.)
Here’s the main message from the Fed:
“Of course, the U.S. Soccer wants the game on ESPN or readily available to those in the States.”
And that’s about it.
The conversation with ESPN, while jovial, was even less productive. I’ll use this analogy. Ever try to give a pooch medication? They shake their head to the left and then the right, avoiding whatever peanut-butter-looking concoction is housing the medicine that they actually benefit from. Well, that was how our conversation with ESPN went—us imploring ESPN to communicate with a fanbase for their own good and ESPN shaking their head.
Here’s our dialogue:
TSG: Is ESPN currently in negotiations or considering negotiations with Media World for the USA-Honduras game?
ESPN: No comment….we currently do not have rights to the game.
TSG: How much do games typically cost, ballpark. Is it less than $1M? (Note, TSG has unsubstantiated commentary from folks that Media World is placing a premium on this game and that the game is or was at this point “sufficiently higher than $500K” — please take this comment with a ginormous asterisk–but we wanted to let you know at least some numbers in the background.)
ESPN: No comment.
TSG: Is there a “dead date” to negotiations? As in a day, when ESPN, assuming they are negotiating for rights, needs to stop or they won’t be able to prepare for the broadcast in time?
ESPN: No comment…that would mean we are currently negotiating. We might negotiate tomorrow; we might not, I don’t know.
TSG: The company that has the rights now, Media World, are they a typical player in WCQ TV Rights? Has ESPN negotiated with them before over sports rights? Have they purchased events before?
ESPN: No comment
TSG: (Shifting gears….) DID YOU ORDER THE CODE RED?!
ESPN: No comment…we do not have rights to the game.
TSG: Were you the second shooter on the grassy knoll?
ESPN: No comment….we do not have rights to the game.
TSG: What does the ESPN staff enjoy more, the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat?
TSG: Just answer “No Comment” if you want us to send you a “Free Benny Feilhaber” t-shirt.
Admittedly, I made up all those questions and answers after “shifting gears.”
For their part though, ESPN has no vested interest in commenting whatsoever on the event as it could be interpreted incorrectly by the fans or the company they are negotiating with. (Note: We enjoyed our time “chatting” with ESPN even if it was not fruitful.)
About all we “got” out of ESPN was that they attempt to secure rights to both the television and internet broadcast always. So if you’re not getting USA-Honduras on your box, it’s probably not coming through your laptop either. Justin.TV might be an exception, however with no TV signal for a programmer to bogart it’s unlikely they’ll get anything real time either.
According to Media World yesterday, they have categorically said “both Fox and ESPN have not shown enough interest to negotiate” and that they are widening their sales effort on the close circuit feed to the game to as many bars and establishments as possible.
Further, Media World has commented that any “tape delay” availability via a network is also out as it might damage the close circuit audience for the event.
Media World was kind enough to offer the “official” bar list when they have it. Great, what a relief.
For our part at TSG, my comments from a few weeks ago have not changed much, with the exception of my off-the-cuff, for-debate suggestion to boycott U.S. home match play to gain attention to the issue. What was I thinking? I don’t support that, however I do support the U.S. Fed or CONCACAF being less tight-lipped about this situation.
It’s all timing and money and our guess is the fan will be left in the dark until settlement and game time unless gaining public support or creating a perception is to the advantage of any attempt at negotiation.
Having learned little here, TSG added a line of questioning to both U.S. Soccer and CONCACAF asking essentially, “What can we do to prevent this in the future?”
This is just as sticky a situation. While we’d like to suggest that CONCACAF could mandate a home feed for the home team, this would compromise the leverage of the rights purchaser if that mandate ever became public. In fact, we’re still awaiting word if CONCACAF can improve any media rights regulations.
Assuming they can, why couldn’t CONCACAF mandate that the game be made available to general public on a PPV basis if no television network bears the cost.
This would at least give fans a choice of paying $10, $20, $30 at home to watch the game or going to the local bar. It would give young adults under 21–hey U.S. Soccer, don’t we really need and want to keep those fans–an option to at least watching the game.
Our continuing focus here at TSG is to work our way into discussions with folks at CONCACAF and FIFA to the best of our ability to understand if there are any motivations there to improving the situation in four years time for or for critical soccer cup games after 2010. The Honduras game is essentially the last one for awhile where U.S. Soccer, in our mind can’t intervene going forward as most games will be friendlies negotiated between the U.S. and their opponent.
We’ll continue to update this piece as we get communications back from whoever we have reached out to and whoever wants to reach out to us.
Next up: Traffic Sports on Friday. Check out Steven Goff over at the Washington Post as he first reported the story and seems to have some unique information.
Also check out MatchFitUSA for their commentary on Honduras-USA.