Last week's announcement that the U.S.-Guatemala World Cup qualifier is a setback to soccer on television after making so many gains.
Sometimes we as fans of the U.S. Men's National Team just can't catch a break. Here we are getting ready for a nice run of five matches when we receive the news that the last match in the run--a World Cup qualifier against Guatemala--will only be available on pay-per-view for $25. Let me repeat, $25! For a standard definition broadcast nonetheless. This is outrageous! We as devoted fans have already had to search to find broadcasts in the past and this time we deserve more.
To be clear, this was not U.S. Soccer's doing. The Guatemalan federation held the rights to the match since it is being played in their country. They are the ones that wanted enormous fees for the rights and ESPN, Fox Soccer Plus, and NBC just weren't willing to put up the money Guatemala was demanding. You can't really blame the networks for not wanting to pay those really high fees, especially considering they are already going to be broadcasting the matches against Scotland, Brazil, Canada, and Antigua and Barbuda. You'd have to think that those matches would probably bring in better ratings anyways.
There are two entities to blame for this debacle. The first is the Guatemalan federation for showing an utter lack of regard for opposing fans. Hospitality has not been a strong suit of some Central American federations in the past, but this is a new low. The second is Integrated Sports Media and Traffic Sports USA who bought the rights to the match and then told everyone they had to pay $25 just to watch it. This isn't the first time these companies have done this to American fans. During the last World Cup cycle the U.S. was away to Honduras with a chance to clinch a spot in the World Cup. Yet, fans had to settle for a limited broadcast that wasn't very good. Chances are the quality of the broadcast hasn't changed much since then. You can't really blame them for seeing an opportunity, but you can blame FIFA and their increasing dedication to money rather than the game.
This setback comes at a time when soccer was really starting to make an impact on American television. European soccer, especially the Champions League, has always been quite popular on television even to the point to matches being played on Sunday afternoons during American Football season. Even recently MLS has seen a boom in television growth. The L.A. Galaxy signed a multi-million dollar a year local television deal, and MLS struck a groundbreaking deal with NBC. That last deal has brought unprecedented coverage to MLS and has helped to mainstream the league.
Additionally, the quality of the broadcasts has dramatically improved. MLS Live now offers matches in HD, which for someone who has watched matches online for awhile, is a huge improvement. The national broadcasts on NBC are great quality and even local broadcasts have improved tremendously. The quality of announcers has improved as well. Adrian Healey, Ian Darke, Glenn Davis, and Arlo White do a great job on the play by play while Taylor Twellman and Kyle Martino do a great job on ESPN and NBC respectively. Rob Stone and Eric Wynalda are great at Fox Soccer as well. Knowledgable personalities like Brian Dunseth have also done a fantastic job of being excited about the sport in our country and relaying that excitement to fans.
So to have this debacle forced upon us is a real shame. The only thing we can do as fans is to not purchase the broadcast and to find other ways to watch the match. Hopefully the team will trounce Guatemala on behalf of the fans as well.
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