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The Problem With ESPN

By | 30th April 2009

Here in America, ESPN is truly the “Worldwide Leader In Sports.” Millions of people wake up with Sportscenter in the morning, and go to bed with it on in the evening. Anyone in America that follows sports seemingly gets their information from ESPN.

The only problem? ESPN has literally no respect for soccer.

Let me start by saying that I understand the soccer isn’t the most popular sport in America. I understand that most people in America would probably consider the NFL, MLB, NBA, and Nascar to be more popular, meaning ESPN putting hours upon hours of soccer on their networks would probably get them bad ratings.

With that being said, ESPN must understand that soccer in America will only go as far as they are willing to take it. People have argued about making soccer popular in the United States, but I feel that no one has questioned the way in which soccer is presented on ESPN. Many people are casual observers of sports, and Sportscenter is the show in which they derive most of their information. Here is where many of the problems arise:

There is absolutely no way that soccer will become popular in the United States if the anchors on Sportscenter continually make a joke of the highlights they are presenting. Anchors such as Neil Everett always make a joke of the names of teams and players when they talk about a soccer highlight, and act as if no one in America actually cares about what they are presenting. The only way a soccer highlight makes an appearance on Sportscenter is if a crazy goal is scored, or if they are contractually obligated to show it based upon their exclusive network rights.

I’m not sure if soccer is some inside joke at ESPN, but I know that the people on TV would surely get reprimanded if they laughed through an entire NFL highlight, or harshly make fun of the city in which a team plays in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched ESPN and had to change the channel because the people on TV were passive aggressively bashing soccer.

And what about the people at ESPN that actually do know about soccer. Where are they? Currently ESPN has 1 show dedicated to soccer called ESPN Soccernet Press Pass. You can’t find this show on ESPN however, you have to go to one of their family of networks. Press Pass is currently on ESPN Classic for 2 days a week with a weekly coverage of 2 hours, all on a network that few people even get. 2 hours a week on ESPN Classic? Fishing legitimately gets more coverage than soccer.

ESPN has all the tools to make soccer in the United States popular. They have a seemingly endless budget, which in turn has given them the rights to the Champions League tournament, the World Cup, and the United States national team. Coverage of these tournaments is good when it is happening, and interest seems to sharply gain due to many casual observers noticing the high level of play that the MLS rarely provides. However, ¬†after the tournament is over, ESPN does nothing with the new casual viewers. They make no attempt to draw new fans in. I believe there is plenty of high level soccer year round, that if shown, would not hurt ESPN’s ratings at all.

David Beckham proved that a proven superstar going to the MLS is not going to make soccer in America important.

I feel that the job truly belongs to ESPN.

Reader Comments

The below views are those of our readers and do not reflect the opinions of Premiership Talk or its employees.
  1. [...] a side note I want to share this piece to further my grief with ESPN and American Soccer as a [...]

  2. Nick I wish I understood Spanish, because Deportes is the only ESPN network with good soccer coverage.

  3. nick s says:

    Analysis is always going to suffer: ESPN wants its half-time and post-match breaks to get the requisite amount of commercial time into a two-hour block for a match, and FSC runs on a budget of around 36 cents. Setanta, ironically, benefits from not trying to (or being able to) target a North American audience: it just shows the same thing that's going to its domestic audience.

    You're right about SportsCenter, though: the team doesn't have the basic familiarity with the game, and it shows. The anchors and producers seem more clued up when they're talking over lacrosse highlights than something from MLS or La Liga.

    They throw in the odd goal or save in the Top Ten plays every weekend, as a token gesture. The goal is usually a generic header from a cross. The save is usually one that the goalie elaborated for the cameras. And the ESPN Deportes producers are probably laughing at the jocks in the other studios. It's really quite embarrassing that the 30-second Deportes breaks are more informative than anything within SportsCenter proper. If ESPN cared about treating the game as anything other than a novelty minority sport, it'd bring in people from Deportes to do the coverage, but that would make the jocks look bad.

  4. Dani says:

    Brian, you are right about the quality of the pregame shows and the graphics. The point I was trying to make is that FOX at least has some good shows that compliment the live matches like their nightly news show.

  5. By the way, both ESPN and FSC are guilty of showing graphics during the matches that obstruct the view. FSC shows those terrible advertisements at the bottom of the screen during a match that squish the video and distort it. Awful, and only seen in American sports. Sky would be having none of that.

  6. Well people are actually saying Fox Soccer is facing very difficult times with Setanta coming in, showing bigger and more matches, and doing a much better job. Setanta actually understands that we want to hear the commentators in the build up to the match, not Max Bretos sitting in a studio in California. Setanta also has a fantastic half time analysis show, whereas FSC shows awful commercials and about 60 seconds of highlights (all, of course, commentated by some American in a studio).

    I don't think Fox or ESPN are the answer in this… I think American fans would appreciate coverage like Setanta or Sky MUCH more and would be more apt to watching the sport.

  7. Dani says:

    ESPN certainly has a much larger reach than FOX but I think at this stage for soccer to grow it needs a network that is 100% behind it. ESPN has shown in the past that it's not. It's had the rights to the Champions League for over 10 years and has done nothing with them. Every now and then they have a highlight show on ESPN Classic and that's it. You'd think by now they'd have a pre-game show and a weekly round up on European soccer at the very least. I think FOX will do a better job of promoting the game. I know that FOX's reach is no where close to that of ESPN but it will be taken seriously and fans like you and me will be better served. As far as the casual fan goes they'll still be able to watch games that are broadcast on FX and their regional affiliate.

    It would be intersting to see how fast FOX Soccer has been able to grow. How many homes do they add per year and has the rate of growth increased in recent years?

  8. Hey Dani,

    I think FOX will do a better job than ESPN with the games, but I don't think that FOX can affect as many people as ESPN could…

  9. Great article, Mike. It also bothered me how many times Derek Rae criticized Berbatov for not scoring since the Newcastle game. Little does Rae know that Berbatov just scored this past week against Tottenham!

  10. Dani says:

    The good news is that ESPN no longer has the rights to the Champions League after this season. Starting with next Season Fox Soccer has the rights to all Champions League games and they have already announced that they will be boradcasting at least 3 games per match day. 1 on Fox Soccer, 1 on FX, and 1 on the regional Fox Sports Nets (some of which are now Comcast Sports). Good article.

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