By Charles Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (Jan 12, 2023) US Soccer Players – Soccer broadcasting in North America is evolving rapidly. Tuesday drove home that shift as the public got a clearer idea of what it will be watching on its televisions, and other screens, in the months and years ahead.
One week out from the first match of its new broadcasting contract with Warner Bros. Discovery Sports, a USWNT friendly at New Zealand, the US Soccer Federation announced its commentating team for the opening phase of the eight-year deal. The group includes National Soccer Hall of Famers and national-team legends DaMarcus Beasley, Julie Foudy, and Shannon Boxx as well as Kyle Martino, Luke Wileman, Melissa Ortiz, and Sara Walsh.
USMNT fans will get their first taste of the new setup with this month’s January friendlies in Southern California vs Serbia on January 25 at 10pm ET on HBO Max and Colombia on January 28 at 7:30pm ET on TNT.
Meanwhile in San Jose, California, MLS and Apple used the league’s annual preseason media day to roll out their commentary and analysis lineup for the 10-year partnership that is taking its entire slate of broadcast properties to the Apple TV platform. That large and still-growing squad has USMNT alums Marcelo Balboa, Maurice Edu, Sacha Kljestan, and Taylor Twellman.
“Having done this for over 13 years, the right questions are being asked, and that’s why my enthusiasm for what this league and what this sport can do are through the roof right now,” Twellman told reporters after the introduction. “Apple got my attention, because the MLS fan deserves to be treated with respect. The way this league has grown in the last five years, the broadcast (production) stuff has to be there, too.”
By the standards of the industry, these are two strikingly young and international groups of broadcasters, rich with high-level playing experience. They also represent the fullness of North American soccer communities like few before them.
After months of interviews and evaluations behind the scenes, MLS and its new partner decided on a conscious pivot in that direction. “Our league, it’s the league for a new America. It’s young, it’s diverse, it’s global, it represents all aspects of the community,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said during a media session earlier this week. All this marks a notable step forward in fostering greater diversity and representation.
Transitioning from television-oriented media deals to two dominated by streaming platforms puts soccer in the vanguard among its North American sports counterparts. There’s limited precedent for these moves in the sports business. Both of them have had less than a year to work with from announcement to first broadcast, which is a heavy lift even for the large, powerful companies involved. The confidence with which Warner Bros. Discovery and Apple are approaching these new ventures can be interpreted as promising signs of their commitment to the sport.
An Apple executive who gave reporters a background briefing on the roll-out plans for the “MLS Season Pass” platform suggested that such challenges have inspired some of the $1.9 trillion company’s best work over the years. Apple TV+, it was noted, launched barely three years ago yet has already earned critical acclaim and gained significant ground on the market share held by the country’s top five streaming services.
Warner Bros. Discovery Sports, the product of a $40 billion merger of Warner Media and Discovery completed not long after the US Soccer deal was announced, seems to hold a similarly bullish outlook. The company already holds or shares NBA, MLB, NHL, professional golf and NCAA basketball properties. European-based multi-sport heavyweight Eurosport is also under its umbrella, as is a new joint venture in Great Britain with BT Sport. That’s real scale.
“We are now one of the few organizations in the world that can truly unlock the two most important sports markets in the world – the US and Europe,” noted Andrew Georgiou, president of Warner Bros. Discovery Sports’ European operations, in November.
Offering more sports properties like US Soccer and NHL on HBO Max points to a broadening vision for that streaming app. It’s intriguing to ponder whether that could connect the USMNT with other types of viewers and new kinds of shoulder programming. After so many years on more conventional sports channels, this might represent a path towards extending soccer’s dramatic growth of the past quarter-century, which is no small task.
That’s the kind of long-range vision that can bridge the short-term learning curve inherent to most big launches. Next week’s USWNT friendlies in New Zealand will provide players and staff with a firsthand preview of circumstances in which they will defend their title at the Women’s World Cup come summer. They’ll also give a test run for everyone involved in presenting and consuming the new product on HBO Max, along with some concurrent linear television broadcasts on TNT and TBS.
Similarly, MLS on Apple TV+ goes live on February 1, giving them several weeks to use preseason games and banked content to test-drive ahead of opening day of the regular season. By any measure, a brave new world in soccer broadcasting is about to unfold.
More from Charles Boehm:
- Five questions for USMNT Players in England in 2023
- US National Teams had a good 2022
- Six of the most intriguing occasions on the 2023 MLS schedule
- Working through a marquee World Cup final
Photo by John Dorton – ISIPhotos.com