ESPN’s Premier League Opener a Missed Opportunity (Updated)



This weekend ESPN demonstrated why most American football fans should be pleased that the worldwide leader has acquired EPL and La Liga rights. The Saturday match, despite some hiccups between the studio tandem of Georgie Bingham and Robbie Mustoe, provided  us with timely highlight and analysis of ongoing matches in a modern studio.

Monday’s telecast (simulcasted from ESPN UK) which featured Ray Stubbs in studio and Jon Champion on the call was brilliant: perhaps the best live EPL telecast we have been able to enjoy in the US in many years. ESPN has brought a quality presentation to the UK using the high production standards of the US operation without any of the annoying, “ESPN attitude.” Simply put, ESPN’s Monday Night telecast was as close to a perfect sport broadcast as you will ever see on these shores, or across the pond.

La Liga broadcasts begin in a few weeks, and expectations must be quite high for ESPN to bring a high standard, European style telecast with the quality of American production to viewers. But one lingering issue remains: ESPN’s MLS broadcasts are not being plugged agressively during these matches, and seeing the high standard and promotion ESPN is giving European football, shouldn’t MLS and USMNT fans demand the same treatment?



ESPN formally gained the rights to show EPL Saturday morning matches less than twelve hours before the initial match kicked off at 7:45 AM ET/4:45 AM PT. Our sister site, EPL Talk had reported for eight days that the network had acquired the rights, but no public announcement was made until the last minute, and no advertising was done for the Chelsea-Hull City opener.

Despite this, ESPN 2 garnered a highly respectable 0.2 Nielsen rating for a match that started before 5am on the west coast of the United States. This rating matches the average viewer ship share for ESPN 2’s primetime MLS telecasts that do not include the Seattle Sounders FC. So, in short, ESPN got the same market share for a match that started in the early morning with no advertising, as they do for a match they show in primetime with moderate advertising.

It can be safely assumed that with some advertising and basic features such as the match being listed on the program guide the viewer ship will further increase. I for example, have spoken to two fans (both of whom do not watch MLS but do watch the USMNT) who missed the Saturday morning game because they searched for it on Setanta, and did not find it and thus assumed it was not on TV.

Since it has been determined that viewers will flock to EPL telecasts at ridiculous times of the morning, and even find the game if it is not listed on the TV Guide channel or programming guide of satellite and cable systems, shouldn’t ESPN be obligated to build the brand of the product that they have invested a rights fee for? Or was it acceptable that ESPN made no mention of upcoming MLS broadcasts?

We saw no MLS advertisements or promotion during the match. We heard no discussion of MLS or the USMNT in the pre-game or halftime shows. For a causal observer, this essentially seemed that ESPN perhaps is ashamed to even advertise that they show MLS to the EPL viewers, which the network assumes are significantly more sophisticated in football terms.

ESPN, based on the early returns will be successful with the Premier League. The windows for matches they have acquired are not necessarily the most attractive, but as demonstrated in the first telecast, a certain core of viewers will find the program. We must also assume that ESPN will have some success with the La Liga package they have acquired, which includes showing the Real Madrid-Barca match twice each season.

But where does that leave the domestic product? Does ESPN simply assume that viewers of the Premier League and La Liga, will not watch MLS so they do not waste their time promoting it? Or is this a tacit admission that MLS has maxed out as far as viewers in its current form, and the network is more concerned about building the brand of international football entering a World Cup year?

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About Kartik Krishnaiyer

A lifelong lover of soccer, the beautiful game, he served from January 2010 until May 2013 as the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the North American Soccer League (NASL). Raised on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the old NASL, Krishnaiyer previously hosted the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, the Major League Soccer Talk podcast and the World Soccer Talk Podcast. His soccer writing has been featured by several media outlets including The Guardian and The Telegraph. He is the author of the books 'Blue With Envy' about Manchester City FC, and 'Soccerwarz' about the MLS, USL and NASL infighting.
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