Editor's Note: We've published several op-eds on the Free Beer Movement site, but with no real distinction between what is news and what is opinion. Our editorials are now going to come with the feature tag "Making the Case", well, because its an awesome beer pun, and we love those.
It's really hard to look ESPN right in the eye and tell them to get "serious" about soccer. After all we just got done with a summer where the "Worldwide Leader in Sports" gave the Women's World Cup production value the tournament has never seen before. Not to mention the previous summer's men's Cup, and the strides the network has made bringing on the likes of Ian Darke to call U.S. Men's National Team games.
But we will. We must.
Last night ESPN2 televised a "qualifier" match for the Little League World Series before the scheduled USMNT friendly against Mexico. Not surprisingly, baseball, as it often does, did not finish on time (is there such a thing as "on time" baseball?) and the beginning of the soccer game was forced to ESPNews and remained there for a good 20 minutes.
|ESPN's soccer coverage got you pissed off?|
Wading into the waters of discussing whether televising children playing baseball makes any sense is for another time and day. This column is mostly about moving forward rather than looking backwards.
ESPN released a statement this afternoon that spelled out their policy on continuing in-progress events:
"Starting US-MEX on ESPNEWS was unfortunate circumstance but this is one of the challenges of back-to-back live events. ESPN almost always sticks with the live event until it ends. Soccer fans would want the same if a match ran long. Fans were alerted of sched change and match was still available in HD and on ESPN3. Otherwise, hope you liked ESPN’s unprecedented commitment to this friendly."The disconnect is that this was a much-hyped match for the cable sports network. ESPN's SportsNation was live on the scene, the broadcasting team almost had enough for a starting 11, and there was also a pre-game show. ESPN wanted to drag hardcore fans and casuals to Jurgen Klinsmann's first match with otherwise was just another game against U.S.'s regional rival.
As it often goes for ESPN what they determine as important sports (poker, bowling) they can make important sports. Last night's match, before kickoff, had all the appearances of a marquee event for ESPN.
Then problem then isn't really that ESPN did what they most always do and not-preempt coverage of a live event, but the "Jekyll and Hyde" approach the network has with soccer. If they want to be the "world wide leader in sports" then they've got to market to global sports and that means soccer. This means ramping up their coverage of the English Premier League, including more and more European league matches on its ESPN3 platform, and unprecedented coverage of the World and European Cups. Their website covering the Premier League, Soccerner, is top-rate.
What remains to be seen is what ESPN will do about AMERICAN soccer. Major League Soccer has a semi-regular spot in prime time and the National Team features on their family of networks for friendlies and qualifiers, but the American soccer portion of Soccernet is atrocious. What does ESPN really want from its domestic soccer coverage?
ESPN and it's sew-saw relationship with American soccer needs to get serious. They've certainly got the on-air talent and the production quality, but soccer fans are sensitive and fickle. Droves bolted to Univision and were never bothered by the ESPN2 to ESPNews to ESPN2 switch-a-roo, patrons in the bar I was at were incensed, and DVRs nationwide caught the exciting conclusion of children's baseball and probably missed the end. Nothing like a soccer fan scorned.
Part of the reason we hardly see other sporting events interrupted like last night is because there's so much pomp and circumstance before and after other American sports. NFL broadcasts start and finish an hour on each end so if there happen to be a long running whatever the studio show can be cut down. Baseball and baseball on ESPN are front-loaded with "__________ Tonight" as a buffer as well. The network broadcast the game at 9pm CT, but that wasn't late enough for children's baseball and had a pre-game show, but it was relegated to ESPNews as well.
It's time that ESPN, despite the investment in personnel and production also add a mentality that puts soccer on equal footing when entered into the broadcast schedule. If the game was such a marquee event as the network billed it (and once it was on, it was great) then it should be afforded the same scheduling treatment that other big events on ESPN get.
|Graphic Credit: Free Beer Movement|
ESPN could do little about their contractual obligations to the LLWS last night and certainly soccer has benefited from the same treatment from the network before, but what we saw last night had less to do with commitments than with a mentality that puts American soccer in the backseat in Bristol. If ESPN is serious about the global game they've got to get serious about the American game as well. You can't build one without the other in the U.S. because Nats fans are often EPL and other continental league fans as well. Put up a poor showing in one and we'll find other options.
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