Friday, June 4, 2010

ESPN's World Cup promotion

This doesn't have to do with MLS directly, but ESPN seems to be making a serious investment in soccer as a sport. They had UEFA Champions League coverage for a number of years until this one, at which point they were outbid by Fox Soccer, but instead invested in the EPL and Spanish La Liga. This season there were usually two or three games available on either ESPN, ESPN2, or ESPN360/ESPN3 between the two leagues, plus a number of Carling Cup games.

Now, we're seeing a pretty huge amount of World Cup promotion. For existing soccer fans like myself, it's good and bad. The bad part is that the way it's fed to us can be annoying. ESPN has these 30-second commercials that they play pretty routinely where the guy from Gladiator briefs us in very general terms on a nation's team. Sometimes instead of that guy, it's John Harkes or Robbie Mustoe in a studio setting. They're unabashedly aimed at mainstream American sports fans who know nothing about soccer. For instance, they had one on Spain where the guy said things like, "Spain have traditionally underachieved, but they won Euro 2008. Xavi Hernandez is their midfield playmaker." It's Soccer For Dummies.

When I try to look at them objectively however, I think they're very important, in a good way. They reach out to prospective new soccer fans, some of whom will hopefully stick with the sport beyond this summer, and maybe even become MLS supporters in the future. You've got to start somewhere.

Also, there are a relatively huge number of soccer headlines on's main page. That's obviously good. And I'm not sure about this next one, but the "Soccer" link on the main page that usually brings you to the Soccernet home page now brings you to the World Cup home page. You need to click on the "Soccernet" link from there to get to its homepage. Maybe ESPN expects a spike in the number of people clicking on the "Soccer" link due to the WC, most of whom only want to know about the WC. Whatever, they know more about their traffic than I do.

Bill Simmons has also been a sort of crusader for the cause, and he's had two really good soccer-centric podcasts in the past week. He had one with Alexi Lalas a few months to a year ago too, and I'm sure he's talked soccer on more occasions than that. They're pretty good podcasts, even for diehards, and especially for soccer-and-basketball fans.

So ESPN's been pretty good to the WC. We'll see how the actual game coverage is during the tournament. It'll be interesting to hear Martin Tyler's reaction when the US beats England; he's calling that game.


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