Monday, June 20, 2016
Right now, you could plop yourself down in front of the television and watch a world-class soccer match most days — beginning at 8:30 a.m. ET and continuing every two-and-a-half hours until 10:30 p.m. ET — as Copa America Centenario and UEFA Euro 2016 dovetail with one another. Copa America concludes June 26, while UEFA Euro 2016 continues to July 10. While I don’t suggest foregoing most of the summer parked indoors with a remote and a big screen, I do want to encourage parents and youth players to share several of these matches. They are an excellent opportunity to see how complex and fast the best tactical soccer unfolds. Copa America can be seen on Fox networks, and ESPN broadcasts and streams Euro 2016. While waiting for an airplane on June 11, I was able to watch the U.S. play Paraguay on my computer. Technology is awesome.
Americans are used to weeks and weeks of play-off competitions in every sport, beyond the regular seasons of football, basketball, baseball and hockey. Adding to the professional sports schedules, we can also watch hours of collegiate games. On average fans spend 8.5 hours a week viewing sports, according to a 2013 study. That compares to an average overall TV habit of five hours a day. Using those numbers, sports makes up nearly 25 percent of our video consumption. Young players develop their interest and ultimately their passion for a sport by watching teams who perform at the top levels. It’s that interest, which inspires a player and supports him or her when times are rough. When players immerse themselves in watching matches, they develop a keen sense of how tactics evolve in the course of a competition. They can key in on a particular player or position to watch how he or she reacts both on and off the ball. As young players mature, so will their sophistication when it comes to understanding the game and their role in it. Unfortunately soccer players have been at a disadvantage for many years because soccer hadn’t snagged a huge portion of sports broadcasting. Therefore, players had a better chance of watching any other sport than soccer. However, over the last ten years broadcasters have put a greater emphasis on “the world’s game.”
In 2013, NBC signed a three-year deal with the English Premier League to air 196 matches each season, with 20 matches being broadcast on NBC and the rest on NBCSports, CNBC and USA. This year, they doubled down on their commitment with a new six year deal, penning a $1 billion contract with the EPL. Compare that to ESPN’s yearly fee of $1.9 billion just to air several NFL games. For NBC, this soccer contract is a bargain. With sports accounting for 37 percent of all TV ad spending, NBC is delighted to secure a large niche of soccer broadcasting. Fox, who began their off-shoot cable channel as Fox Sports World in 1997, broadcast mostly rugby and Australian rules football with a slowly growing soccer schedule until 2006, when it shifted to Fox Soccer, dropping all other sports. However, it lost the rights to the EPL to NBC, and eventually moved all soccer to Fox Sports 1 and 2 — turning Fox Soccer into FXX, a second entertainment channel to FX. Fox has the rights to several college soccer matches and all CONCACAF games, including the Copa America. Where Fox will now shine is their contract with FIFA for World Cups 2018 and 2022 and the Women’s World Cup in 2019, plus several FIFA U-20 and U-17 World Cups. ESPN has focused on UEFA and will share MLS with Fox.
This increase in soccer coverage means that events the rest of world knew and looked forward to, such as the FA Cup and the FA Community Shield in England and the various other major European leagues like the Budesliga (Germany), Ligue 1 (France), and Serie A (Italy), could be seen by American audiences. Since the United States is a country of immigrants, it makes sense that there will be a large pool of viewers for a myriad of soccer programming. The tremendous success of the Premier League contract for NBC has spurred other networks to look closely at what soccer communities exist in the US that would support a broader schedule of matches. For example UEFA covering Europe is one of the six confederations of FIFA. CONMEBOL is the South American confederation and is competing with North America’s CONCACAF teams in this year’s Copa America. CAF is the African confederation and AFC is the Asian confederation. All of these have Cups which help determine World Cup qualifiers and international country team ranking and these Cups are of interest to soccer fans from those continents and beyond. Therefore more and more of these events are coming to American television, which serves to highlight the significant influence of the sport around the world. As youth players become more and more exposed to the highest levels of the sport, they begin to understand what they need to achieve and how to reach those standards, just as young NBA fans learn from watching LeBron James pivot to avoid a defender.
What else this summer do we parents and our children have to look forward to? How about the Olympics? That schedule runs from Aug. 3-20. Young players can watch the best of both men’s and women’s soccer, although the U.S. Under-23 MNT failed to qualify for this Olympics. Nevertheless, there will be plenty of great soccer to relish. The U.S. Women’s National Team will be defending their Olympic title from London 2012 while introducing new players to American fans. Naturally, all the other sports of the Olympic competition will be worthy of our attention, but this will be a great time for young female soccer players to embrace old and new soccer icons while plunging for a month into the sport.
For fans of English soccer, the Premier League will begin Aug. 13 following the FA Community Shield game on Aug. 7, which pits the winner of the FA Cup (Manchester United) against the winner of the EPL (Leicester City). Leicester City is a Cinderella story, a team who was given 5,000-to-1 odds of winning the League (worse odds than Kim Kardasian becoming President). The club had never won the Premier League title in their 132 years and barely escaped relegation last season. However, they succeeded utilizing an incredible defense, who committed just 10 defensive errors all season, only one of which resulted in a goal. The offense came through when needed, racking up nine 1-0 games (11 is the record) to keep Leicester at the top of the bracket from April forward.
While our kids should be outside in summer practicing the game they love, taking a few hours to enjoy some of the top level soccer being played by the professionals enhances both their investment in and understanding of the game. Our children will appreciate sharing these events with us which helps acknowledge the activity they enjoy. We can all benefit as we watch and learn more about soccer - its history, its impact, its stars and its execution. The level of athleticism and commitment during these contest is intense and impressive. Our young players will find so much they can ascend towards and so many reasons to try. It’s important that they experience the power and universal standing of soccer in order to appreciate the special place they occupy in this phenomenon while finding a player they like or a country they support and watching those matches. It can be a special summer joining the world-wide soccer fellowship.