By J Hutcherson (Feb 12, 2019) US Soccer Players - Soccer makes it easy to go overboard. There are so many leagues with so many games. A still surprising number of them are available in the United States via cable or streaming platforms. That's not news, with the bigger complaint this season more about what isn't easily available. That would be the UEFA Champions League, with one game a day from the round of 16 available in English on cable. All of those caveats are necessary. Both games per day are available in Spanish in a lot of markets and cable packages.
Again, the issue is ease of access with TNT offering less coverage than Fox Sports in previous seasons. That's because TNT would like people to subscribe to their streaming platform. Paying for soccer over the internet also isn't new. Fox Sports has had a streaming platform for years, but it still kept a lot of games on cable. NBC Sports moved enough of its Premier League games to a streaming tier to annoy people. ESPN has entire leagues and competitions only available on a streaming tier.
It's news to no one in this era of multiple streaming tiers that the subscription costs add up. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, sports packages, specialty outlets, and all of a sudden it's edging into cable subscription territory. If you're already paying for cable, it's an additional expense that can catch up with you. How much is all this access really worth?
That's not the question any of the providers want us asking. It's not the business model to force consumer choice. You're supposed to go all in, especially if you're into soccer. So many leagues and games available. Why not spend part of your weekday morning with the Indian Super League, available on ESPN+? You wouldn't want to miss out on one of the lesser Champions League group stage games. Those down the table encounters in the Premier League might be worth your time.
Maybe. Maybe not, but you might end up paying for them regardless. When the Premier League or Champions League announces yet another mammoth overseas TV rights deal, they're talking in part about us. We're overseas. We're one of those lucrative markets they're trying to exploit. It's a marketplace after all, and we're well past the point where the only option is a stuttering audio stream or a highlights show.
What's the same is the big picture question. It's not just MLS wondering why they have to compete against Liga MX but every other league in the world with a TV deal in the US. It's spreading interest across so many properties that it dilutes the overall market. We don't know what MLS ratings look like on their own. For that matter, we don't know what lower division attendance might look like in this country. Every soccer product is competition, compounded by the competition from all of those other sports in the United States.
It's also worth asking about the American soccer fan. There's this ideal that soccer fans here know about everything happening anywhere else. Talk about Serie A and they're with you. Mention a lower division club in Spain, and they know which American spent half a season there on loan a decade ago. Assume they know the English clubs up and down the divisions. It's rare that anybody really questions that, even though it's as rare to find foreign fans that interested in everything else.
Has anybody else had one of those conversations about "the MLS" with a mention of some long ago player with a connection to whatever club our foreign friend supports? I once mentioned that "the MLS" was available on Eurosport on Sunday nights all over Europe and got the kind of look normally reserved for household pets. It's not disinterest, it's wondering why anybody there would bother at all.
It's a fair point, and one probably worth considering here. Nobody is suggesting ignoring the bright lights of the Champions League and Europe's biggest clubs. Instead, it's a limit to what should be reasonable. It's an old point, but there are other pro baseball, hockey, football, and basketball leagues with zero expectation that American sports fans care. Those US leagues declare their league winners world champions for a reason. We all know that it's different in soccer, where the level of competition tops out in Europe rather than here. We also know why so many traditional American sports fans ask why that's the case since the money for sports is in the United States.
Whether or not the ratings are is the question all of these sports networks continue to ask. Going all in on the biggest leagues in pro soccer normally doesn't cost as much as buying the regional rights to one team in the US major leagues. It's a hedged risk, with the understanding that there are a lot of options for anybody interested in big league soccer.
That's still the issue here, even if it doesn't look like a problem. The current lack of choice without all of those streaming service subscriptions isn't the issue. It's the glut of options making sure only a handful of teams and games break through.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at email@example.com.
More from J Hutcherson:
- Spurs play for the leagues after exiting the cups
- European soccer in the US sports marketplace
- David Wagner, Huddersfield Town, and the next level
- Concacaf can't unlock the Club World Cup
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