Good morning. It’s Monday, April 11, 2011, and this is your weekly Sports article and editorial from Cyn opsis. If you’d like to comment on this story, there is a space for that below the article. Look for more of these in the future!
Soccer Ends Scoring Drought with US Fans
For decades, soccer had been touted among broadcasters as the next big thing in US sports broadcasting, only to fall short year after year, with the exception of the World Cup. Last week, several unrelated events may have squashed the monkey on soccer’s back once and for all.
Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League quarterfinals matches on Fox Soccer showed dramatic increases over 2010 numbers. LeBron James partnered with Fenway Sports Group to give the NBA superstar a minority stake in the soccer club Liverpool, marking the first time a professional athlete of James’ stature took an ownership stake on one of the most powerful sports franchises in the world. Finally, Electronic Arts, which already boasts the world’s best-selling video game in FIFA 11, announced that the company had struck a deal with Orad Hi-Tec Systems to bring Virtual Playbook technology to the broadcast booth of the global soccer community. The technology will allow virtual players to appear inside the studio with hosts and analysts and allow them to demonstrate plays and scenarios and explain techniques and strategy in a way that appeals to new and old fans alike.
Indeed, the momentum built from the World Cup, which averaged 3.3 million viewers per game in 2010 in the US, may have finally found an afterlife as audiences continue to build, technology improves and pop culture takes notice.
“People have been saying that soccer is the sport of the future for many, many decades, but it hasn’t hit its stride until more recently, with more games on TV and broader distribution on major networks like ESPN and Univision, as well as social networks connecting audiences to the sport,” said David Nathanson, Executive VP and GM of Fox Soccer. “That combination of viewership, diversity, advertisers and broadening of distribution has put us where we are today.”
Fox Soccer serves as the primary broadcast outlet for the UEFA Champions League in the US, offering 110 live and delayed matches from the league to the channel’s subscribers and driving a spike of 75% in ratings between the last two full seasons of the sport. The global popularity of those games, combined with the network’s other deals for Barclay’s Premiere League, the MLS, First Italian League, and others, has driven the channel to growth both on television as well as online.
“We’ve never seen this type of growth even post-World Cup, and European club soccer is now only finding audiences, it now ranks as one of the fastest-growing televised sports in the US,” said Nathanson, whose channel scored the most-watched broadcast in the outlet’s history in February with a Premier League game between Chelsea and Liverpool. “Digital platforms in particular have helped drive interest. Foxsoccer.com is the leading soccer website in the US, and our other platforms also continue to supplement that experience.”
The channel has been busy locking in rights in recent months. In December, Fox Sports Media Group renewed their deal with UEFA Champions League for three additional seasons, extending their association through the 2014/15 season. The agreement provides the League with coverage on multiple platforms including Fox Sports, Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Soccer Plus, Fox Deportes, Fox Sports Net and FX, as well as online video streaming platform Foxsoccer.tv. As part of that effort, Fox will showcase the Champions League final on its network channel, repeating last year’s telecast in which about 1.6 million people watched the game. This year FX will, for the first time, host one leg of each semifinal on its channel.
On the homefront, Fox Soccer Channel renewed its deal with the US based Major League Soccer for one year, and is airing 15 Saturday night matches and 14 Friday night contests as well as three playoff games. The one year deal prompted media speculation that the long relationship between the two organizations might be chilling. Nathanson disagrees.
“We are moving forward as if we will have MLS for the next decade,” he said. “In fact, we’ve not only added additional cameras to our coverage, as well as the super slow-mo cam, but we plan on introducing an entirely new graphics package for MLS. That’s not insignificant. The look and feel will be completely different than anything we’ve seen in the past. I do think as we move forward, we want the same thing MLS wants, which is to get more audiences to tune in and watch. As the popularity of the sport continues to grow in the United States, we expect great things in the future.”
In My Opinion
A recent Marketwatch report stated that European soccer was drawing the type of US ratings that regular season college basketball and the NHL regular season games are now scoring. From my kids’ point of view, first they knew Beckham, and then they knew Real Madrid. Now they know the Champion’s League. If this progression is any indication of things to come for the Millennials, a whole new generation of fans are now engaging with the sport in a way that never happened decades ago (when Pele represented the entire sports for the vast majority of American audiences.) As every good marketer knows: branding, engaging and growth are the most important steps to national recognition and soccer, whether it’s on Univision, Fox or ESPN, finally has the traction it’s been desperately searching for.
This is the inaugural Cyn opsis| Sports editorial edition – let us know what you think about the story, about the idea of our having a Sports related edition, or anything else on your mind. Email Cynthia at [email protected] or email Chris Purcell directly here.
Later — Chris
Chris Purcell for Cyn opsis| Sports
April 11, 2011
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